Washington, DC — As a public comment deadline looms, the livestock industry is ramping up to fight growing calls to ban two of the most deadly poisons used to kill wild mammals, according to documents released today by Sinapu and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). This battle takes place against a backdrop of rising concern about a massive federal program to kill predators and other wildlife deemed a problem by ranchers, primarily in the West.
The two poisons are sodium cyanide (used in M-44 ejectors) and sodium fluoroacetate, commonly called Compound 1080, used in “livestock protection collars” strapped onto the heads of sheep and goats. The poisons are distributed by Wildlife Services of the U.S. Department of Agriculture which used these two agents during 2006 to “dispatch” an average of 1.6 animals every hour. The poisons are part of a $100 million Wildlife Services’ program that killed more than 1.6 million animals during 2006.
The public comment period for a proposal before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban the two poisons ends this January 15th. Last week, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) also introduced legislation outlawing production and use of the two agents, which EPA classifies as having the highest degree of “acute toxicity.” The basis for the proposed bans is growing reports of accidental poisonings of pets and “non-target” wildlife, including endangered species, and environmental damage.
Compound 1080 is registered for use in only 11 states and is outlawed in several countries, as well as California and Oregon. Because it is colorless, odorless, tasteless and water soluble, Compound 1080 poses a significant bio-chemical threat if introduced into urban water supplies. In November, Wildlife Services announced a safety review of its pesticide and hazardous chemical operations.
“Protecting sheep from coyotes does not require waging chemical warfare,” said Wendy Keefover-Ring of Sinapu, noting that even rancher groups concede that the two poisons account for only a small percentage of coyote removal. “The industry’s own figures show that a wide range of effective alternatives exists.”
Nonetheless, the ranching lobby has opened a vigorous double-barreled campaign to block the poison bans. For example, nearly a month before Rep. DeFazio introduced his bill, the industry recruited Rep. John Salazar (D-CO) to circulate a letter discouraging co-authors. In the letter, Rep. Salazar touted the benefits of Compound 1080, even though it is outlawed in his state. In 2001, however, someone in Grand Junction, Colorado illegally used Compound 1080 to poison 30 pets; even the policeman who handled the carcasses was sickened.
In addition, the industry is urging its members to submit public comments to EPA opposing the ban. In a surprising contrast, Mark and Jane Truax, members of the American Sheep Industry Association, wrote comment supporting the ban, pointing out that buying a guard llama ended coyote predation on their ranch.
“Scattering incredibly potent poisons across the range should not be a mainstay of modern wildlife management,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization in partnership with Sinapu organized the petition that EPA accepted for comment this past November. “Many of us are perhaps naively hopeful that the Environmental Protection Agency makes this decision on the merits.”
EPA had previously banned Compound 1080, but the Reagan administration reversed the ban.