BLM bans cyanide bombs on public lands amid safety concerns

The United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is stopping the use of M-44 devices that deliver sodium cyanide on the public lands it manages, which covers more than 245 million acres.

The BLM took this action when it renewed a memorandum of understanding with the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services’ (APHIS) Wildlife Services regarding wildlife damage management in November 2023. The memo is effective until September 30, 2028, but can be canceled by either side with 60 days notice.

The ban will not result in additional limits on other predator control techniques on public land. Less than 1% of the M-44s used by APHIS Wildlife Services in 2022 were on BLM-managed lands.

A red fox in a meadow
Cyanide bombs are spring-loaded traps that diffuse cyanide powder to kill livestock predators such as foxes, coyotes, and wild dogs.

M-44 devices, also known as cyanide bombs, are loaded with a single-dose sodium cyanide capsule. These are registered under the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a Category 1 toxicant, the highest level of toxicity. The device uses a scented bait to kill predator species that prey on livestock, but other wildlife and pets are attracted to the bombs as well.

In 2017, an incident in Idaho gathered attention when a family dog was killed and a teenager was injured after accidentally triggering a device placed on public land near their home.  

As a result, HR 4068/S 1940, known as “Canyon’s Law,” was first introduced in 2017 and reintroduced in June 2023. The bill would ban the use of M-44s on all public lands. The National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service already prohibit the devices, while the U.S. Forest Service still uses them in some form.

The devices are also allowed in Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia and Wyoming.

A spokesperson for the American Association of Wildlife Veterinarians (AAWV) said the association supports federal and state agencies in their efforts to phase out the use of M-44 devices.

Farms and ranches with animals such as goats, sheep, and cattle argue that the devices are necessary and effective, with livestock producers experiencing $232 million in death losses annually, according to an EPA press release.

“They (M-44 devices) are very canine specific and very humane. The trappers particularly go to the M-44s when fields or pastures are too muddy for traps and snares, or the tree canopy or ground cover are too thick for aerial hunting or predator calling," said Peter Orwick, executive director of the American Sheep Industry Association. “Sometimes M-44s can be effective when snow cover limits traps and snares.”

Other non-lethal options for protecting livestock from predators include fencing, movement of livestock, and livestock protection dogs, according to Orwick.