Rep. Peter DeFazio is out to Stop USDA’s Cruel Wolf and Coyote Poison Bombs for Good

(EnviroNews Oregon) — Washington D.C. — On March 30, 2017, Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR) introduced the Chemical Poisons Reduction Act of 2017 (H.R. 1817), which seeks to ban the use of two deadly poisons, Compound 1080 and sodium cyanide, for predator control efforts throughout the United States. These two poisons are currently used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Wildlife Services (WS) predator killing program, which according to its own report, slew over 1.6 million native U.S. animals in 2016.

Sodium Cyanide is used in M-44 devices, also known as “cyanide bombs,” which are deadly spring-activated ground weapons placed to kill coyotes and other predators. Compound 1080 is used in “livestock protection collars,” which are placed around the necks of sheep and release lethal poison when the collar is punctured by predators or any sharp object. M-44s can spray cyanide up to 5 feet and the collars contain enough poison to kill six adult humans. These two poison-based weapons result in injury or painful death for whoever encounters them. They have often led to the mortality of domesticated animals and endangered species and have injured humans as well. Both of the toxins were banned under President Nixon in 1972 but reintroduced in the 80s.

“These are totally indiscriminate and unnecessary devices. They often hit non-target species or hit even potentially targeted species that are not responsible for livestock kills. There’s no earthly reason why this agency should be using these and they kill in a most inhumane manner. I think they are something that’s sort of a poster child for the excesses and the problems with this agency,” Rep. DeFazio explained to EnviroNews in a one-on-one exclusive the day before the bill was introduced.

He discussed the recent incident in Idaho in which a young boy was hospitalized and a family dog was killed when they discovered an M-44 within a quarter mile of their home. “It’s certainly not the first time that it’s happened with these [devices] and I’ve been saying for a long time, it’s only a matter of time until a child is killed. In this case, the wind just happened to be blowing the right way,” said DeFazio. This incident was also cited as a motivation for a March 28 petition from a coalition of 20 wildlife groups to WS, seeking an immediate ban of the cyanide bombs in Idaho.

“Those of us involved with this issue know these incidents are common-place and that countless more will never be known because of Wildlife Services’ repeated cover-ups. We applaud this legislation and thank Congressman DeFazio for his unfailing support on this issue.” said Brooks Fahy, Executive Director of Predator Defense, in a press release.

“I have been trying to ban the indiscriminate use of lethal devices and poisons like Compound 1080 and the chemicals used in M-44 devices for decades, even as a Lane County Commissioner,” DeFazio said in the release. “These extreme so-called ‘predator control’ methods have been proven no more effective than nonlethal methods — the only difference between the two is that the lethal methods supported by the ranching industry are subsidized by American tax dollars.” DeFazio told EnviroNews he thinks taxpayer dollars should “absolutely not” be funding WS’s predator killing endeavors.

He also commented on WS’s secrecy and lack of public transparency. “They are an obstinately opaque and insulated agency. It’s a very dispersed agency; basically the state agencies operate on their own…the whole process is very unaccountable to the national office,” although he’s not sure the national office cares to carry out much monitoring or control anyway. He recently applauded Oregon Governor Kate Brown’s recommended budget cuts to predator control programs at the Oregon Departments of Agriculture (ODA) and Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), which would reduce the money available to Oregon counties with WS contracts.

DeFazio told Harper’s Magazine in 2016, he tried to acquire “detailed numbers about finances and operations, [but] they won’t give us this information. I’ve served on the Homeland Security Committee, and Wildlife Services is more difficult to get information from than our intelligence agencies.” He told EnviroNews, “They’re very resistant and very much protected by the Department of Agriculture.”

He also pointed out WS never tries to “use nonlethal methods and what they end up doing is making the problem worse at public expense.” The above-mentioned petition explains non-selective killing methods like the poisons are often counter-productive; they result in unintended killings, disturb ecosystem balances, can lead to increased livestock loss and have not been proven economical. DeFazio mentioned the use of guard dogs and shepherds as examples of nonlethal solutions and numerous other nonlethal options exist, including flaggery (flagging) and solar-powered electric fencing.

“The federal government should not be using these extreme measures,” DeFazio concluded in the press release. “It’s time to stop subsidizing ranchers’ livestock protection efforts with taxpayer dollars and end the unchecked authority of Wildlife Services once and for all.”

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