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Groups sue to stop US use of cyanide predator killing traps

KEITH RIDLER
FILE - This Thursday, March 16, 2017, file photo released by the Bannock County Sheriff's Office shows a cyanide device in Pocatello, Idaho, The cyanide device, called M-44, is spring-activated and shoots poison that is meant to kill predators. Environmental and animal-welfare groups have filed a lawsuit, Tuesday, April 4, 2017, claiming the U.S. government is violating the Endangered Species Act by allowing the use of two predator-killing poisons. (Bannock County Sheriff's Office via AP)

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Environmental and animal-welfare groups on Tuesday filed a lawsuit claiming the U.S. government is violating the Endangered Species Act by allowing the use of two predator-killing poisons employed by federal workers on rural Western lands to protect livestock.

The lawsuit filed in federal court in Montana by the Center for Biological Diversity and others seeks an immediate ban of the poisons where they could harm federally protected species including grizzly bears and Canada lynx.

One kind of device, called an M-44, is embedded into in the ground and looks like a lawn sprinkler but sprays cyanide when triggered by animals attracted by bait smeared on the devices.

A 14-year-old Idaho boy was injured last month when he checked one out with his dog on federally-owned land near his house on the outskirts of the small city of Pocatello. His Labrador retriever dog died.

"Cyanide bombs are indiscriminate killers," said Collette Adkins, an attorney and biologist at the Tucson, Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity. "These dangerous pesticides need to be banned, but until then, they shouldn't be used where they can hurt people or kill family pets and endangered wildlife."

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are named in the lawsuit. The U.S. Department of Justice, which defends the government in lawsuits, did not immediately respond Tuesday to emailed and telephone message requests for comment.

M-44s are planted to kill coyotes and other livestock predators. They killed about 12,500 coyotes in 2016, mostly in Western U.S. states. Other environmental groups in a petition last week said the devices over the last 20 years have killed about 40 dogs and injured a handful of people.

In March, an M-44 killed a wolf in northeastern Oregon. Wolves in the eastern part of that state are not federally protected but are protected by that state's wolf plan. Oregon's plan calls for increasing wolf populations to the point where federal protections for wolves can be rescinded so the populations are managed by state officials.

"The recent tragedies prove current restrictions are failing to ensure people, domestic animals and imperiled wildlife are not at risk from these dangerous and outdated tools," said Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians, based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which is also taking part in the lawsuit.

The other poison targeted in the lawsuit is a pesticide called Compound 1080 that's placed in collars worn by livestock and ingested by attacking predators.

The lawsuit says the collars can harm non-targeted predators as well as carrion feeders, including birds. The groups also say the collars can be lost or punctured by vegetation, leaving behind poison that can kill non-targeted wildlife.

The lawsuit seeks to force the fish and wildlife service to complete a consultation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about how the poisons could harm federally protected species and their habitat.

It says that is required under the Endangered Species Act but claims the service has not completed its part of a consultation launched by the EPA more six years ago.

The groups in the lawsuit asked a judge to ban use of the two poisons until the consultations are completed.

"The agency's delay in completing the required consultations allows deadly poisons to continue to harm protected wildlife and contaminate their habitats," the lawsuit says.

The Humane Society of the United States and The Fund for Animals, both based in Washington, D.C., also joined the lawsuit.