Citing concerns about risks to people, endangered species and pets, a coalition of public health and conservation groups have petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to ban two poisons for use as wildlife control agents.
“EPA takes very seriously its responsibilities to ensure that pesticides registered in the United States can be used safely without harming people, wildlife or the environment,” said the EPA’s Enesta Jones. “We will review the petition.”
The EPA has no time limit to review the document and respond.
The poisons targeted for prohibition are sodium cyanide capsules and sodium fluoroacetate.
In Montana and Wyoming, sodium cyanide is commonly used to kill coyotes using baited M-44 ejectors. In Montana, three people, 22 government agents and two commercial applicators are licensed to use sodium cyanide.
The poison is most commonly used by Wildlife Services, an agency under the U.S. Department of Agriculture responsible for predator control across the nation.
According to 2004 figures from the agency, M-44 cyanide capsules were used to kill 435 coyotes in Montana and 378 in Wyoming. The more common way to kill coyotes in the two states is aerial gunning, accounting for the killing of 7,634 coyotes in Montana in 2004 and 3,322 coyotes in Wyoming the same year.
Despite its somewhat limited use, Marty Sullins of the Montana Department of Agriculture, said he’d hate to see sodium cyanide banned as a predator-control agent. Sullins is in charge of licensing, training and technical assistance for M-44 in the state.
“There’s not that much nontarget loss,” Sullins said. “And there are very strict rules and restrictions on where it can and cannot be used.”
Nontarget losses do happen, though, and sometimes to endangered species. In 2003, two wolf pups near Dillon were killed by M-44 ejectors.
Over the years, however, the poison has exacted a toll. According to a study done by Wildlife Services, between 1976 and 1986, M-44 ejectors killed more than 103,000 animals, 95 percent of which were targeted species. Texas led all states, accounting for almost 60 percent of animals killed by M-44s. Montana ranked fourth in the study.
Sodium fluoroacetate, known as Compound 1080, is a toxicant used in livestock protection collars that are strapped to the necks of sheep and goats. When coyotes attack the livestock and bite the collar, the poison is released. Although allowed in Montana and Wyoming, the collars are not used.
“The collars never have been popular in Montana,” Sullins said. “I haven’t licensed anybody on that in a good 10 to 12 years.”
Compound 1080 was banned by the EPA in 1972, in part driven by the reaction to several hundred eagles being poisoned by a Wyoming landowner. But during the Reagan administration the agency allowed re-introduction of the poison for use in livestock protection collars.
Wendy Keefover-Ring, of the conservation group Sinapu in Colorado, wrote the petition to ban the poisons.
She said all 10 Wildlife Services sites visited by the Office of Inspector General failed to account for all of its stocks of the poisons following two audits, which raised concerns about the poisons falling into bioterrorists’ hands.
“Both sodium cyanide and compound 1080 have been used as warfare toxicants,” Keefover-Ring said.
Wildlife Services touts its programs as prevention against livestock losses. According to its Web site, livestock losses to predators exceed $71 million annually even with its help. In Montana in 2004, the state’s sheep industry lost $1.1 million to predators.
But in information gathered from the Department of Agriculture by Keefover-Ring, sheep and lamb kills in 2005 due to predators accounted for only 3 percent of the total number of sheep raised in the United States, while 5 percent of the sheep died from other causes. Cattle losses to predators in 2005 were less than 1 percent, compared to 3 percent from all other causes, according to USDA data.
Keefover-Ring called the poisons a “sledgehammer approach to wildlife management.
“Wildlife Services is very effective at killing wildlife, but not all wildlife are livestock predators,” she said.
Contact Brett French at email@example.com or at 657-1387.
By BRETT FRENCH
The Billings Gazette
February 3, 2007