Sun editorial:

Cyanide bombs are ‘like a loaded gun ready to go off’ in Nevada outdoors


Associated Press file (2017)

Cyanide devices like this one, an M-44, are spring-activated and shoot poison that is meant to kill predators.

Editor’s note: The following editorial contains a graphic description of an animal’s death. It may not be appropriate for young children and sensitive readers.

In March 2017, 14-year-old Canyon Mansfield was walking his dog, Kasey, when the unthinkable happened.

It occurred when the teen from Pocatello, Idaho, poked at something he thought was a sprinkler head. But it actually was the trigger of an M-44 cyanide bomb, a predator control device that kills animals by spraying a cloud of sodium cyanide into the air.

Canyon was able to escape the plume of poison he’d inadvertently set off. Kasey was not. The 3-year-old yellow Labrador retriever suffered an awful death before Canyon’s eyes.

“I look over and see him having a seizure,” Canyon told a news reporter afterward, holding back tears. “I ran over and he had these glassy eyes. He couldn’t see me, and he had this red stuff coming out of his mouth.”

Fast-forward two-plus years, and a different kind of unthinkable has occurred. Last week, the Trump administration reauthorized use of M-44 bombs by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services and state agencies in South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico and Texas.

It’s a sickening decision. Not only are these devices a barbaric way of killing coyotes, wolves and other predatory animals, they don’t discriminate between predators and other living things. Federal officials have acknowledged deaths of skunks, possums, bears and other animals to M-44s. Then there’s the danger to people and pets outdoors, as shown by the tragic incident in Idaho.

The devices, which have been in use since the 1960s, consist of a spring-loaded spike that is pounded into the ground, topped by a cyanide canister and a triggering mechanism wrapped in bait. When an animal pulls at the bait, the spring pushes the cyanide upward. The poison then mixes with saliva in the animal’s mouth, producing poisonous cyanide gas.

In Canyon’s case, officials said he was lucky to survive. His arm happened to be in front of his face when the bomb went off, which blocked cyanide from getting into his mouth.

His story, along with others involving deaths of pets and an endangered wolf, caused public outcry and prompted several states to ban or restrict the devices.

In Nevada, however, there’s no state ban. The Center for Biological Diversity, a leading environmental advocacy organization, says the devices are in use in every Nevada county except Clark. More than 1,300 were triggered from 2013 to 2017, resulting in the deaths of a minimum of 200 animals a year. The main targets are coyotes, and the main beneficiary is the agriculture industry.

But considering the popularity of outdoor recreation and outdoor tourism in the state, Nevada lawmakers and state officials should examine the use of cyanide bombs. On its face, it seems like banning them is the humane, ethical and rational thing to do. If that’s not the case, state leaders and officials should make a case as to why.

The Trump administration approved a couple of restrictions in reauthorizing cyanide bombs — saying they must be clearly marked and be set back from marked trails — but we shouldn’t let Washington decide the matter on its own.

Americans are certainly concerned about the issue. When the Environmental Protection Agency opened public comments about the reauthorization in late 2018, it reported receiving more than 20,000 remarks, and the “overwhelming majority” of respondents objected to using M-44s.

The Mansfield family is among those calling for an end to the devices.

“I feel like a cyanide bomb on the side of a mountain is like a loaded gun ready to go off,” Canyon’s mother, Theresa Mansfield, recently told a reporter. “These are deadly devices, and there is no way of preventing humans or pets from being exposed to them.”