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The USDA places these traps to kill; that is exactly what they do.

“The M-44 ejector device is an effective and environmentally sound wildlife damage management tool. The spring-activated device delivers a dose of cyanide powder to targeted animals. It uses a cyanide capsule that is registered as a restricted-use pesticide by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The device can be used only by trained certified applicators.”

This “trap” is what Canyon Mansfield, age 14, came across while walking his dog one day. The pair was reportedly only about 350 feet from their family’s home. Canyon told reporters, “I see this little pipe that looked like a sprinkler sticking out of the ground. I go over and touch it. Then it makes a pop sound and it spews orange gas everywhere.”

The orange gas that covered them was cyanide, placed in the ground by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), to kill so-called nuisance animals.

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“The M-44 device is triggered when a canid (i.e. coyote or wild dog) tugs on the baited capsule holder, releasing the plunger and ejecting sodium cyanide powder into the animal’s mouth. The sodium cyanide quickly reacts with moisture in the animal’s mouth, releasing hydrogen cyanide gas. Unconsciousness, followed by death, is very quick, normally within 1 to 5 minutes after the device is triggered. Animals killed by sodium cyanide appear to show no overt signs of distress or pain.”

Doing its job, the device killed a dog that day in Pocatello, Idaho, but not a wild one. The family’s 3-year-old Yellow Labrador Casey died quickly, just like the USDA says it would.

“We are devastated,” mother, Theresa Mansfield, told Fox News. “My dog died in less than 2 minutes. My son was rushed to the hospital covered in cyanide.”

Canyon was able to think quickly, wiping as much of the poison off as he could. It possibly saved his life. Fortunately, there was no rain that day. Otherwise the moisture-reactive cyanide might have killed the boy as well.

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It may have just been luck that Canyon wasn’t killed along with Casey.

Captain Dan Argyle of the Bannock County Sheriff’s Office said, “We’re still trying to figure out how he wasn’t affected. We think a strong wind blew it [the cyanide] downhill when the device went off — right in the dog’s direction.”

The government maintains that the traps are not capable of killing a child. Captain Argyle strongly disagrees, stating that Canyon only weighs about 20 pound more than the dog. “He’s very lucky to be alive.” The teenager’s blood will continue to be checked for cyanide levels.

The USDA Wildlife Service’s website claims that the traps are designed to “control coyotes, wild (feral) dogs, and red, gray, and arctic foxes.” The average weight of a coyote is between 20 and 50 pounds.

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Coincidentally, the same weight as a one-year to seven-year-old girl or a 10-month to seven-year old boy. If a younger child had been with the dog, he or she could easily have been poisoned to death.

According to Captain Argyle, and the USDA website, there are supposed to be signs posted to warn people about any traps in the area. That brings to mind large, easily-seen, weatherproof warnings. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

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The signs that the USDA places close to the deadly traps. They are neither durable nor adequate.

The signs could be easily covered by snow, washed away by rain, or torn out of the ground by wind or animals. The website also claims they do not place traps on property without permission, either from the landowner or the government.

Captain Argyle said, “We did not observe any signs at the location.” Canyon’s father, Mark Mansfield, confirmed, “We didn’t know anything about it. No neighborhood notifications and our local authorities didn’t know anything about them. The sheriff deputies who went up there didn’t even know what a cyanide bomb was.”

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The danger was increased when an inspection revealed another trap close to the Mansfield home. Apparently, both were set on February 25, “without the family’s knowledge or consent.”

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The device that exploded and killed a family pet.

This is not the only incident. Earlier in the week, the Helfrieck family was out on a walking trail they have used for 20 years. They were approximately 50 miles from Casper, Wyoming. On the trail was Amy Helfrieck, her husband, and their 8-year-old daughter. Mrs. Helfrieck’s sister and brother-in-law were also with them.

Suddently hearing her husband yelling, she turned to see him carrying their dog and running towards her. Mrs. Helfrieck, who is a nurse, attempted to open the dog’s mouth to help Abby breath. “She was having a lot of difficulty breathing and I knew at that time she was dying. What I didn’t realize was that we were exposing ourselves to a very deadly poison.”

The sister’s dog Molly was also killed. The family reports there were the required signs. However, they were placed only about 5 feet away from the trap, leaving no early warning for the hikers. 

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The Helfrieck’s daughter and a picture of Abby.

These traps, very effective against pets, are used to prevent wild animals from attacking and killing livestock. The USDA states;

“Coyotes, foxes, and feral dogs cause substantial damage to livestock and poultry producers, particularly those with sheep and goats. After studying a petition to ban the M-44, EPA determined that predation accounts for a significant portion of premature livestock losses. EPA found that the use of M-44s have significant benefits in reducing predation on livestock without negative long-term impact on the target predators or other nontarget species.”

The two families who have lost their beloved pets would certainly disagree with that statement. Other critics argue that taxpayers should not be spending money to protect private property. The traps are unselective. They cannot distinguish between predators after livestock and those who are just hunting.

A wildlife advocacy organization called Predator Defense is part of the movement to ban these devices. Brooks Fahy, the executive director, calls the traps “nothing more than landmines waiting to go off, no matter if their victim is a child, a dog or a wolf.”

He further explains that, “Much of the public remains totally in the dark about the fact that these deadly devices are placed on private and public lands nationwide. M-44s are totally indiscriminate. Worse yet, they are unnecessary, as the majority of the animals killed have never preyed on livestock.”

These recent incidents demonstrate the rationale behind Fahy’s words. If a rancher needs to control predators on their land, they have a right. However, traps placed on public lands are harming innocent people and animals. This method is outdated, expensive, and deadly to the wrong animals. Next time it could easily be a child.