The traps, which are known as M-44s and dubbed “cyanide bombs” by critics, are spring-loaded devices that emit a spray of sodium cyanide to kill their targets. The traps are most frequently used by Wildlife Services, a little-known federal agency inside the United States Department of Agriculture, to kill coyotes, foxes and other animals at the behest of private agriculture operators.
Last year, Wildlife Services killed more than 1.5 million native wild animals across the country, including bears, wolves, birds and more. Roughly 6,500 of these deaths were caused by M-44 traps.
“I am announcing a withdrawal of EPA’s interim registration review decision on sodium cyanide, the compound used in M-44 devices to control wild predators,” Andrew Wheeler, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, announced in a public statement. “This issue warrants further analysis and additional discussions by EPA with the registrants of this predacide.”
In an announcement last week, the EPA said that it had authorized government officials to continue using M-44s on an interim basis. The decision sparked fury among wildlife advocates and others, who decried the decision as a reckless threat to humans and the environment. M-44s, which are deployed on public and private land across the US, have led in the past to the inadvertent deaths of endangered species and domestic pets. They have even harmed humans, including a teenage boy who was poisoned by an M-44 in Pocatello, Idaho, in 2017.
Brooks Fahy, the executive director of Predator Defense, a wildlife group that is a leading opponent of M-44 traps, said the EPA’s announcement was a welcome reversal.
“Obviously somebody at EPA is paying attention to the public’s concerns about cyanide bombs,” Fahy said in a statement. “It would appear they’re responding to public outrage over the interim decision from last week. Our phone has been ringing off the hook from concerned citizens regarding their greenlight to continue using these horrific devices. We’ll have to see how this plays out.”