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Wildlife Services, a US agency planting 'cyanide bombs' to kill predators (theguardian.com)
180 points by rainhacker 17 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 78 comments

A few years ago I read Coyote America, by Dan Flores. A large portion of this book is dedicated to Wildlife Services efforts to cull the Coyote. They've been fantastically unsuccessful in this effort, most likely due to behavioral quirk of the species. Coyotes can identify specific individuals by voice, and if one of those voices disappears from the nightly call it causes the females to enter estrus and breed. So if you kill a Coyote multiple more Coyotes literally spring up in their place.

That's intriguing, could you provide a link? If all females can just reproduce more, I would expect one would break ranks and increase her own fitness by maxing out regardless.

I was also intriqued and put ~10min looking into it. This study[1] seems to suggest that although reproduction rates might increase modestly when the population is reduced, high immigration rates are the bigger factor. If anyone finds anything on the (voices disappearing)->(estrus) mechanism described above I'd like to see it, sounds really interesting.

[1] https://wildlife.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/jwm...

Coyotes seem to do OK in urban areas too, hope these are safe from cyanide bombs...

So, castration ? :)

They shouldn’t be allowed to place them without notifying people beforehand, preferably by getting those people’s signatures.

According to the article, they’re nowhere near that level of notification. They certainly didn’t notify the local emergency response personnel, which is just negligent.

These things have the same failure mode as landmines: If forgotten, they might kill some random person years later, and at that point, locating and removing them costs orders of magnitude more than placing them.

At the very least, there needs to be a public map of where these things are, and an 5-10’ ring of signs at eye level around each one.

The tiny sign they place at ground level on top of the trap could easily be lost or overlooked, and it won’t inform people with pets to stay out of the area until it’s too late.

> They shouldn’t be allowed to place them without notifying people beforehand

They shouldn't be allowed to use them, period.

These things are a fantastically bad idea that can't be used reasonably.

A nationwide ban is insufficient. Let's seize 100% of the makers assets to pay for removal and any claims starting with the kid they already poisoned.

If not they are profiting while the people pay for the externalities.

This article seems like a hell of a reach. I have a master's in Fisheries Science that was funded in part by FWS, though I no longer work in that field, so I may not be entirely objective.

That said, the simple reality is that managing native species and how they interact with society has to be done. Whether it's suburban coyotes killing off family pets (a big problem in my suburb at the moment) or rural clashes between ranchers and wolves, you cannot just let the situation unfurl without official intervention. Allowing civilians to handle it results in endangerment and extinction, and refusing to handle it results in ecological damage and risk to both people and livestock.

Now, if the only point is that better training and communication protocols for these Federal employees is in order, sure I buy that for basically every Federal department. Making out like FWS is some pet-assassinating Kremlin is pretty low-effort clickbait. The reason nobody's heard of them is because nobody much cares about what does or doesn't happen to coyotes and deer until it impacts them.

> you cannot just let the situation unfurl without official intervention

I don't think anyone is arguing for wildlife control to completely stop. But people seem genuinely scared of these M44 ("cyanide bombs") devices that seemingly is placed both on public and private properties without any notifications to people around. The article uses the example of a family who had one of those devices planted near their house, eventually killing their dog and poisoning their kid.

Seems absolutely bananas that someone can plant devices like that without any notifications, and sleep well at night. What a absolute clusterfuck of a blunder.

You can get in serious legal trouble for a “booby-trap” inside your own home, if a criminal accidentally is injured by it.

Placing one in a publicly accessible place without even notifying the people living in the nearest homes? Failing to notify occupants of permanent residences in the area shows there was no meaningful attempt at all to notify the public.

In my experience communicating these kinds of warnings out to the public, especially in a way they'll actually see and notice, is a weak spot. Statistically this kind of thing is incredibly rare, and it makes it too easy for Federal employees to feel like communication is just a chore or a checkbox. I agree that part needs fixed.

In today's day and age, we can send amber alerts to phones. Do the same thing. We should also do the same for agricultural or commercial pesticide applications.

Or how about stop putting cyanide mines in your own country?

That would be a great solution. You'll hear no apologies from me for government backwardness about modern technology.

The whole thing just sounds like some overconfident bureaucrat’s bad idea to me.

What makes you think this isn’t allowing civilians to handle it? The idea that this is helping rests on that. If it doesn’t, it falls apart.

Civilians don’t even know this program exists! That’s part of the problem. If a non-law-abiding rancher gets mad he pulls out his gun and shoots a coyote - and there are lots of those. Maybe he doesn’t very much in 2020, because of education programs. But should this program get the credit?

For what you said to be true, you have to prove that these cyanide bombs are effectively controlling populations that need to be controlled - a huge stretch and exactly the claim that should be demonstrated by any defense.

It may not be controlling coyotes (vs something that doesn’t need to be controlled, like skunks).

It may be controlling some coyotes, but not enough to make a difference.

It may be controlling coyotes but actually worse than angry farmers would have - killing them without rhyme or reason, instead of after an offense.

This doesn’t look like a smart program that weighed the pros and cons and then went ahead with deployment judiciously. It seems questionable and dumb, which is why it’s also kind of a secret (often a very reliable tell).

Note that there are no university professors or believable experts saying, “this is a good program with a lot of data behind it.” If there is good science to be seen, it seems suspiciously hard to access.

It’s okay to be skeptical, dismissive even, of bad decisions without good data behind them- and it looks like that’s what we are seeing here.

> If a non-law-abiding rancher gets mad he pulls out his gun and shoots a coyote

Pretty sure it's legal to shoot a coyote on your own property, as long as you're not in a densely populated area.

The state of Utah will even pay you $50 per coyote you kill, up to 10 times per year. All you have to do is register on this website in advance: https://wildlife.utah.gov/predator-control-program.html

And maybe, you know, oversight, accountability, and most importantly: informed consent, by actual local law-enforcement and communities because no one gets to set bombs and then just walk away, for the same reason land mines are a war crime.

If you can't even vaguely guarantee it won't kill people (e.g. on private land at least an accidental baseball-over-the-fence distance away from the perimeter) your approach is most definitely illegal and you should be held accountable, and your agency's dealings revised.

I'd have to defer to your experience, but fire-and-forget cyanide bombs seem a bit radical and dangerous as "solutions" go...

I'd rather pay someone that can handle a rifle to hunt whatever needs killing -- as opposed to the cyanide bomb method that could (as outlined in the article) do more harm than good.

Ideally you'd be completely right. A professional with a rifle is far safer with less chance for unintended consequences (even if the chances are low regardless). Also incredibly expensive compared to what amounts to a spring-loaded poison trap (someone else in this thread linked the actual manual for the thing).

Given that nobody wants to pay what it'd cost to do invasive/native species control with a fleet of professionals shooting things one at a time (even for species where that's theoretically an option), worse alternatives are often used.

You seem to intuit that the risk/benefit is rather low. I'm not sure I agree: it seems like a sure thing that this program will eventually kill someone. It's not exactly evident that the efficacy of the program is high.

Even if the program is effective at control, it doesn't leap out at me that the attained benefit surpasses the risks and costs.

> Whether it's suburban coyotes killing off family pets (a big problem in my suburb at the moment) or rural clashes between ranchers and wolves, you cannot just let the situation unfurl without official intervention.

This is completely backwards. The solution to cats not being at the top of the local food chain is not to kill anything that would eat them, but to end their participation in the food chain. That cats aren't an apex predator is a good thing, because the destruction of native species they accomplish isn't enough to motivate their owners to keep them inside.

There's still a problem of small dogs being taken from a fenced yard.

Guy down the street from me had his 70lb pitbull killed. People don't think of coyotes as serious predators, but they truly are.

You're creating a strawman argument.

The primary discussion here isn't about managing species, it's whether or not it's acceptable to plant a bomb 300ft from someone's house without informing the residents.

Department of Interior would be better. USDA will do anything the farmers want without regard to other interests with a thing like this.

It's been a long term issue -- I think the situation has been basically the same since the 1970s.

Without suburban coyotes, the neighborhood Facebook groups would be stuck talking about fireworks and Taco Bell.

Simple solution: let ranchers shoot problematic species.

In Colorado you can shoot anything you want if it is harassing your cattle, even family dogs. An example from my hometown:


Seems like an overreaction but some dogs behave very aggressively around cattle and other animals due to instinct. Its entirely possible that the dog was not responsive to commands, and was going after the cattle in a serious way. A 4 month old husky is not a tiny puppy. There's more to this story than meets the eye. I highly doubt the neighbor shot the dog without trying anything else first.

Where my parents live in the countryside, some people -- like kids visiting their parents for the month -- will bring their dogs and let them roam around. Dogs will form up in a pack of 2 or more and kill things on your property, like chickens. Or they'll instigate larger animals like the emus and end up biting/breaking the animal's ankle.

You can scare them away easily (dogs are generally skittish) but they'll come back.

I've also learned that some people are completely unreasonable when it comes to their pets, basically believing that "it's just a dog" and you're the asshole if you can't handle it being on your property.

It's been suggested a lot. It might even work. It boils down to whether you believe rancher's incentives are ever going to reconcile with responsibly pruning dangerous species. Historically that hasn't worked out well.

Depending on the state, and depending on how problematic the individual animal is, you can. In many states you can shoot hogs whenever you want. Remember that whole thing where a bunch of twitter people who’d never been on a farm made fun of that politician for saying he had to shoot like 50 feral hogs at once? That’s a real thing - more than once I’ve been on an acquaintance’s ranch, standing up in the back of a truck or Polaris with an AR-15 chasing down dozens and dozens of hogs. They breed quickly and are very destructive! Texas tried to poison them and it didn’t work well enough.

Usually with other species like bears or wolves, you are only supposed to shoot them if they actually attack livestock (and sometimes not even then).

Family member in Texas goes hog hunting every year and always has sausage in the freezer. There are millions of them. Your story about the Polaris and AR-15 is spot on; this is possibly the only game animal for which an AR-15 is the perfect rifle.

Their story may be accurate but they misrepresented the politicians story, re seeking out vs being invaded by a wild pack.

They are definitely an invasive species, although the damage they do is mostly ecological and economic; they're not really dangerous to people directly. I've heard stories to that effect but I expect they're exaggerated.

Thing is that those species like coyotes or raccoons or deers are problematic simply because their populations have grown too big. You want to put their populations under the control, but not exterminate them completely. And that second part is where ranchers are not very good at, and then you end up having to install external controls to regulate the hunting and the whole thing becomes a lot more complicated and expensive for tax payers.

That's what Australia does for feral pigs, and it works pretty well.

Right, but the ideal number of feral hogs is zero. The ideal number of wild wolves is not zero.

That isn’t a universally accepted opinion.

Feral hogs are an invasive species in the US that causes significant property and ecological damage while also not being a particularly good game animal. That ticks pretty much all the "we don't want this here" boxes that I'm aware of.

Who wants feral hogs?

This idea is anti-economic. It has always ended in a very expensive mess by the unavoidable and huge collateral damages each time it was implemented

There are 2.79 million federal employees in the US. What's the probability that the average voter knows what any of them do all day? Democracy has no chance, we live under the rule of unchecked bureaucracy.

Here's a description of the m44 device: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/publications/wildlife_damage/fs-m...

Interestingly, the picture in the AP article above and the one in the manual do not match. The one in your link has a danger sign, but the one in the article has no such sign.

I wonder if the one that killed that dog had a sign.

Even a danger sign won't stop a dog or say a small child.

I remember reading about these years ago and I'm surprised that they're still in use. There's definitely a need to control wildlife populations, but doing it with devices that are akin to cyanide landmines seems like a bad idea.

The people in the article were unaware that one of these devices was placed a few hundred feet from their property. The signage on these devices also seem to be very small. I'm wondering if medical services are given any training or a heads up when these devices are placed. Cyanide poisoning is not the most common thing and I'm wondering how quickly medical services would recognize it.

These devices also seem to contain a large amount of sodium cyanide (880 mg). This is definitely enough cyanide to kill a child and even some adults. Though it seems like the release mechanism would make it difficult for a person to actually ingest all of the cyanide.


This seems like a really bad idea. I would be furious if anyone put that thing 350ft from my house.

Are these devices surrounded by warning signs to ward off individuals that may be getting too close? I've not heard of these devices before and as someone who lives on the edge of a large wooded area with young kids this alarms me. I'd presume they would at least nail some signs to nearby trees supporting bright colors to inform an uneducated passerby that danger lies ahead.

EDIT - After doing a bit more research on these mechanisms I feel a bit better knowing they are triggered by animals biting and pulling on the cloth portion to release the poison (I still don't like these devices). I was concerned it was more proximity based. They do appear to be tagged with a bright colored warning label on the device itself.

A relative used to work for them. It's fair to say that the organization isn't widely known, but you could say the same for the National Geodetic Survey.

I really like happening upon USGS/NGS survey markers on mountain summits. Oldest I've seen is from the 1890s (under a different agency name).

"Secretive" is just generic flamebait. We'll take it out.

The USDA is infamous for being especially cozy with the industry it's supposed to look after. Department of the Interior should probably do anything to do with wildlife.

> "The American Sheep Industry Association has called the M-44 a 'critical tool' that has a 'proven track record of protecting livestock and the environment'"

I don't see how a cyanide bomb intended to kill wild animals protects the environment. Those wolves are native species and part of the environment. Killing them is hurting the environment, definitionally. And given that these bombs don't strategically kill invasive species and are just as if not more likely to kill native species, then I don't see any reasonable claim that these are protecting the environment.

This is simply another case of regulatory capture where the government is helping the special interests that are farmers.

Right? This wouldn't be a problem if we didn't have livestock. Animal agriculture is an unnecessary barbaric practice that has no business in our modern world when we have better options accessible to us.

I want to know what happened to the jackasses that thought it was a good idea to lay mines with poison gas on public lands

They use poison powder, not poison gas, which has at least somewhat reduced potential for collateral damage.

Headline-crafting has gotten out of control; headlines like this really play off people's anxiety/insecurity, just to get a view.

I’d call it a “cyanide mine” not “bomb”. How is it legal to place one 350ft from a house without notifying anyone?!?

Do they maintain a map of these things so they can be properly disposed of?

It lined up with the article, though. While the whole thing is alarmist, I don't think the headline is the problem.

> The secretive government agency planting 'cyanide bombs' across the US

There's some sort of secret organisation putting arsenic packages around cities as well.

Might be attempts from the illuminati to kill off the homeless or your pet dogs or something, it's hard to know.

Any old kid could pick one up and eat them, nothing is registered on any web sites of locations.

Previous discussions:


Has the Guardian gotten worse or were they never that good to start with?

Wildlife services is hardly a secret branch, they are also the folks who airdrop rabies vaccine in remote areas. Yes they do take game from helicopter as part of their population management. Hogs in particular are frequently managed by helicopter since they like to hang out on private property.

The M44 device does have it's issues but calling it a bomb is a gross misise of words - it's a spring loaded aerosol. It's typically used for pack management especially with hogs. Most of the concern with them is downstream of the food chain - a nontargeted animal eats a poisoned carcass, dies, and then something eats those remains.

Which bit of this Guardian article do you think is bad?

They use the term "so-called cyanide bomb" because people that the story is covering have called it a bomb.

The idea that Wildlife services is secretive is covered by this quote: "Congressman Peter DeFazio of Oregon, a long-time critic of Wildlife Services, has described the agency as more secretive than the Department of Homeland Security".

Perhaps they should be better at informing nearby citizens of the presence of these devices so that kids do not get injured.

They do, with signs, weekly in-place checks, and usually knocking the property owners front door first.

[PDF WARNING] https://www.aphis.usda.gov/publications/wildlife_damage/fs-m...

That sign is 6 inches tall, and it is neither OSHA nor ANSI style:


Also, the text explaining what it does is so small you’d have to put your head near the device to read it.

> Also, the text explaining what it does is so small you’d have to put your head near the device to read it.

So? It's not a proximity trigger. It won't activate unless you pull on the bait.

How close to cyanide do you want to be when you read it's cyanide?

These things sound quite deadly, and the regulations around them sound very lax / practically not enforced.

Ethylene glycol is a deadly poison too, and people get close to it on a regular basis.

False Equivalence to the white courtesy phone...False Equivalence...

What say someone picks it up to read it. It's designed to be activated by being pulled from the top, the same way someone would pick it up.


I remember reading about this stuff years ago, it's public knowledge. You could call this government agency obscure, but I wouldn't say it's secretive.

I consider myself somewhat well-read, and I hadn't heard of these.

As I said, it's fair to call it obscure. But calling it secretive is just sensationalist.

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