Washington, DC — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cited a federal wildlife eradication agency for violating safety rules governing a highly lethal poison, according to records released today by WildEarth Guardians and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). EPA’s action was sparked by placement of a deadly sodium cyanide device on federal public lands in Utah, causing the death of a family’s dog and the illness of its owner.
The spring-loaded sodium cyanide ejecting device, called an M-44, commonly used to kill coyotes, was deployed by Wildlife Services, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The EPA’s March 20, 2008 notice found that Wildlife Services violated federal pesticide laws by placing the M-44 in a public recreation area and within 50 feet of a “public road or pathway.”
The triggering incident occurred on February 21, 2006, when Sam Pollock, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist, was injured and his dog asphyxiated by sodium cyanide set out to kill coyotes in the Utah desert. Pollock was rabbit hunting on Brough Reservoir, inside a federal recreation area near Vernal, Utah. His two-year-old Labrador retriever mix, Jenna, was trotting behind Pollock on a dirt road when she tugged on and set off the M-44. Pollock heard a commotion, turned and saw his dog frothing and vomiting but could do nothing as Jenna died in his arms in 90 seconds. Pollock hoisted her body over his shoulder and carried it two miles back to his truck. Soon after, Pollock fell ill from even this indirect exposure.
“What happened to Sam Pollock and his dog is unfortunately all too common,” said Wendy Keefover-Ring of WildEarth Guardians, noting that Wildlife Services’ M-44s are used to kill nearly 14,000 animals a year, according to agency figures. “Wildlife Services should not be using a powerful poison like sodium cyanide anywhere.”
After the Pollock incident, Wildlife Services denied culpability and even claimed that Pollock was not on a road, although photographs taken by Utah officials clearly showed a dirt road. Ultimately, EPA concluded that Wildlife Services was at fault for illegally putting the devices where the public and pets would be at risk but only issued a warning, leaving any corrective steps up to Wildlife Services.
“Wildlife Services is an out-of-control extermination machine that has no intention of policing itself no matter how serious its offenses,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the agency has been involved in so many accidents that it is undergoing a national safety review. “Typical of Wildlife Services, its safety review is being conducted in secret by unidentified agents.”
Meanwhile, opposition to Wildlife Services’ use of M-44s is growing. EPA is now considering a petition filed by WildEarth Guardians, PEER, and other groups to outright ban this poison due to the uncontrolled threat it poses to people, pets and wildlife. Today, a supplement to that petition was filed based on the Pollock case. In addition, Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) has introduced legislation to outlaw sodium cyanide as a means for wildlife control.