Oregon outlaws use of so-called ‘cyanide bombs’ as advocates move to take ban nationwide

The M-44, a spring-loaded device filled with cyanide used to kill predators, is no longer welcome in Oregon.

On Monday, Gov. Kate Brown signed a law banning the devices, called “cyanide bombs” by some of their detractors, chief among them Brooks Fahy of Eugene, executive director of Predator Defense.

“This is a vital public safety issue that has been addressed,” Fahy said in a statement. “M-44s are planted like land mines around Oregon and other states.”

M-44s are small traps consisting of a stake, which is driven into the ground, a spring and a canister loaded with the powdered poison. Once they’re set, the traps resemble sprinkler heads. When triggered, the M-44 ejects a cloud of cyanide meant to kill coyotes, wild dogs or foxes.

The problem, Fahy says, is the indiscriminate nature of the devices.

That fact was laid bare in March 2017 when an Idaho boy, Canyon Mansfield, and his dog Kasey went on their daily walk up the hill behind their Pocatello home. The pair happened upon an M-44 and in a flash of yellow powder, Kasey was killed and Mansfield was injured.

Around the same time Mansfield was injured, a protected wolf in northeast Oregon was killed by an M-44. Fahy said that thousands of other animals, both wild and domestic, have been killed by the devices.

The ban, Senate Bill 580, bans all sodium cyanide-dispersing devices used for predator control in Oregon. It passed both the House and Senate by wide margins and was signed into law on Monday.

Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency took comments on a proposal to renew registration for sodium cyanide use in M-44s. Of the more than 22,000 comments submitted, only 10 supported continued use of the chemical in the devices, according to an analysis by the Center for Biological Diversity.

For Fahy, though, the new law is not an ending point of his 35-year effort to outlaw the M-44, but the beginning of a push to get the devices banned nationwide.

Last week, Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio, a Democrat, joined with Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz in introducing “Canyon’s Law,” so named for the Idaho boy who fell victim to an M-44. The law would prohibit use of the devices across the country. Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley introduced a companion bill in the Senate.

“Cyanide bombs have no place on public land,” Gaetz said in a statement. “These dangerous devices threaten animals and humans alike. Better — and more humane — predator-control tools and techniques already exist.”