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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Time to Ban Dangerous Poisons

The USDA’s misnamed “Wildlife Services” agency killed 1.6 million animals in 2006—including 41 kit foxes, 287 wolves, 346 mountain lions, more than 2,500 bobcats, and more than 87,000 coyotes. It’s a fleecing of American taxpayers as the federal government continues to spend millions of dollars each year on this subsidy to private ranchers, and it’s especially at odds with the political climate of cutting government waste. 

Coyote Because the ranchers know that government agents will come to their property for free and kill predators with traps and poisons, or even shoot them from aircraft, there is no incentive to solve wildlife conflicts humanely. In many cases, the money spent to conduct the killing even exceeds the ranchers’ financial losses in predation of livestock.

While all of this government-sponsored lethal predator control is wasteful, two of the methods of killing are particularly cruel and indiscriminate. Federal agents use a deadly poison called Compound 1080 (sodium fluoroacetate/monofluoroacetate), which is tasteless, colorless, and odorless, with no antidote. The EPA banned it in 1972, but then re-approved it in 1985 for use in “Livestock Protection Collars”—devices that are filled with the poison and placed around the necks of sheep, designed to burst when punctured by a predator. Each collar contains enough poison to kill six human adults. Once exposed, animals who ingest Compound 1080 endure painful, violent convulsions for hours as they slowly succumb to the effects of the poison.

The other deadly device is the M-44, or sodium cyanide capsule, also called a “cyanide gun,” “cyanide trap,” or “coyote getter.”  It’s a spring-activated ejector that lures animals with bait, and delivers a deadly dose of poison when an animal tugs on it. A spring ejects the sodium cyanide into the animal’s mouth and face, and the cyanide combines with water in the animal’s mouth to produce poisonous cyanide gas. Within a few minutes of swallowing cyanide salts, a victim experiences "burning in the throat" and "hunger for air" usually followed by a brief outcry or scream, difficult, painful breathing, and violent convulsions before finally losing consciousness.  The devices are like landmines, triggered not only by target predators but by any animal who sets them off, including endangered species and family pets.

The mere presence and stockpiling of these extremely dangerous poisons poses a threat not only to animals, but also to people. The FBI has listed both Compound 1080 and sodium cyanide as “super poisons” that are “highly toxic pesticides judged most likely to be used by terrorists or for malicious intent,” and the U.S. Air Force has identified Compound 1080 as a likely biological warfare agent.

Fortunately, U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) has introduced H.R. 4775, the Compound 1080 and M-44 Elimination Act, to ban the use of these two poisons and prevent them from falling into the wrong hands. Please ask your U.S. Representative to support this common-sense and long overdue measure.

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