EUGENE, OR - A bill that sailed through the Oregon House and Senate today with almost unanimous support will eliminate a serious public safety threat if signed by Governor Kate Brown. SB 580 will ban sodium cyanide devices, commonly called M-44s or "cyanide bombs,"* used by the federal government for predator control in Oregon. The final vote was 53-6, and the bill's passage could encourage the 13 other states currently using M-44s to see the importance of following Oregon's lead.
"This is a vital public safety issue being addressed," said Brooks Fahy, executive director of Predator Defense. "M-44s are planted like land mines around Oregon and other states. They must be banned before a child is killed."
"Victories that protect wildlife and public health are hard to come by in the Oregon legislature," said Danielle Moser, Wildlife Program Coordinator for Oregon Wild. "We applaud the bipartisan acknowledgment that these egregious cyanide devices have no place on the Oregon landscape."
M-44s are both lethal and indiscriminate. The reason they cannot be deployed safely is because no child, pet or wild animal can read warning signs and there is virtually no place in the great outdoors they do not go. M-44s have already killed countless dogs and wildlife and injured a number of people in Oregon and beyond. They led to a Utah man's long-term disability and death. They also just missed killing a boy from Pocatello, Idaho in March 2017.
The Idaho tragedy could just have easily have happened in Oregon or any other state using M-44s. It occurred when 14-year-old Canyon Mansfield took a walk on a hill behind his house with his dog and touched an unmarked device in the grass that looked like a sprinkler head. A cloud of orange powder dispersed and was inhaled by his dog, who died an agonizing death in front of him. Canyon missed death due to wind direction, but suffered severe side effects and is being closely monitored. The Mansfield family was outraged and horrified and quickly became activists for banning M-44 devices. They've since traveled to Washington, D.C. twice with the national wildlife advocacy group Predator Defense to urge legislators to support a bill to ban M-44s across the country. Called the Chemical Poisons Reduction Act, it will be introduced by Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-Oreg) within a few weeks. The bill is nicknamed "Canyon's Law."
"Far too many target and non-target animals have died inhumane deaths because of these devices," said Bob Sallinger, Conservation Director for Audubon Society of Portland. "Hopefully Oregon helps lead the way to a nationwide ban on these devices."
M-44s are currently in used for predator control in Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Colorado (only on private land), Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Virginia, and West Virginia. They were banned around 20 years ago in Washington and California. Idaho placed a temporary moratorium on M-44 use in 2017.
In September 2018 close to 100 victims/survivors, physicians, veterinarians, scientists, and other affected parties joined Eugene-based Predator Defense in urging Oregon wildlife managers to address this critical public safety issue by ending the use of M-44s statewide and removing all devices currently deployed.
These parties sent a detailed petition/letter under the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) to the Oregon and Western Region directors of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Wildlife Services, the federal program responsible for using M-44s in Oregon. They shared the lethal hazard M-44s pose to people, pets and native wildlife, the strong public sentiment against them, and the questionable economic benefits of programs that deploy them. In short, they explained why M-44 use is unjustifiable and counter to the public interest. Wildlife Services directors' denied the petitioners' request and in so doing demonstrated a willful denial of reality on the ground.
According to Brooks Fahy, who has worked with M-44 victims for almost 30 years--both investigating the incidents and helping victims deal with the agencies and the aftermath--a few of the realities that Wildlife Services isn't facing include:
- Warning signs near M-44s will not protect children, pets or wildlife.
- Dog deaths by M-44s are common-place. The statistics are much higher than what Wildlife Services publishes. According to whistleblowers, agents often don't even record the poisonings unless there are witnesses. Families are then left to wonder what happened to their dog.
- The fact that Wildlife Services continues to state that M-44s can be used safely and that incidents of M-44s killing dogs and exposing people to poison are "rare" is an outrage.
Given this first-hand experience, Predator Defense did not give up on achieving an Oregon ban. After learning that a Eugene Weekly article about the APA petition had inspired Oregon Senator Floyd Prozanski to author a bill to ban M-44s statewide (SB 580), Predator Defense rallied colleagues at The Humane Society of the United States, Oregon Wild and Audubon Society of Portland to support the bill. The groups sent M-44 victims, experts and key spokespeople to testify at state House and Senate hearings in support of SB 580, which now awaits the Governor's signature.
"M-44s not only present an unacceptable risk to people, pets and wildlife, they are also outdated, unnecessary, and ecologically unsound," noted Kelly Peterson, Oregon Senior State Director for The Humane Society of the United States. "We applaud Oregon legislators for their leadership toward ending M-44 use statewide."
"The eradication of M-44s from Oregon's landscape would be so welcome," said Danielle Clair, an Oregon resident who testified at both Senate and House hearings in support of SB 580. "But it'll be 17 years too late for my best buddy and love, Oberon, my 7-year-old Great Dane/German shepherd who died by cyanide sodium poisoning in 2002. I can't think of this as justice, as there is no return from such trauma. But making people, pets and wildlife in Oregon safe from these devices would be an unmitigated success story."
"The news that M-44s may finally be banned in Oregon has brought me to tears," said Amanda Kingsley, former Oregon resident and M-44 victim who testified at the SB 580 House hearing. "It's been 25 years since my dog Ruby was poisoned by one on my own property, and M-44s have continued to cause so much senseless suffering and death. I'm incredibly grateful to everyone who has worked so hard to end the use of these horrible devices. I hope we can soon say: 'We did it!' "
"We are especially grateful to Senator Prozanski and Representative Gomberg for championing this essential public safety bill through the Oregon legislature," said Fahy. "All that remains is for Governor Brown to sign it."
* NOTE: USDA Wildlife Services objects to the use of the word "bomb" in reference to M-44s. But members of the public started calling M-44s "cyanide bombs" because they act as such per common dictionary definitions, which boil down to containers filled with a destructive substance designed to explode on impact or when detonated. M-44s are filled with powdery sodium cyanide poison. Their spring-activated ejectors spew the poison into the air in a cloud. The ejectors' force can spray the cyanide up to five feet. They are deadly devices, and to the public the definition of bomb fits.
SB 580 - Oregon bill that will prohibit use of cyanide devices to control wildlife, sponsored by Senator Floyd Prozanski and Representative David Gomberg
Testimony & exhibits in support of SB 580 - provided by victims and experts for 2/28/19 hearing with Oregon Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources and 4/11/19 hearing with Oregon House Committee on Natural Resources
APA Petition/Letter to Oregon and Western Region USDA Wildlife Services' directors that inspired SB 580 - signed by close to 100 affected individuals and organizations, including victims/survivors, veterinarians, physicians, scientists, and more. Letter includes the following Appendices:
60+ featured incidents of human and pet poisonings since 1990 that were reported in the media, by advocacy groups, and elsewhere.
Federal government's official body count of close to 2,000 dog deaths between 1997-2016, noting that the real number of dogs killed by M-44s is much larger and will never be known, as whistleblowers have revealed many pet deaths go unreported.
"EXPOSED: USDA's Secret War on Wildlife" - a documentary Jane Goodall wants millions to see, featuring government whistleblowers revealing how they were told not to post warning signs or record non-target species kills when using M-44s for predator control.
Trailer for 'Lethal Control,' a heart-wrenching new film featuring several M-44 victims and survivors assisted by Predator Defense
Learn more about M-44s, their victims, and the public safety risk they pose