Ending the Chemical War Against Wildlife

Posted by Eileen Stark on February 27, 2008

A decade ago, the state of Oregon banned the use of Compound 1080, known chemically as sodium fluoroacetate, for good reason. Considered to have the highest degree of acute toxicity, 1080 had been banned nationally during the Nixon administration along with other poisons aimed at predatory animals, Cans of Compound 1080but was legalized by the EPA in 1986 to aid the USDA’s control over wildlife. Now, Representative Peter Defazio (D-Ore.) and Predator Defense, a Eugene-based non-profit group, have teamed up to halt the use of 1080 and equally lethal M-44 sodium cyanide ejectors nationwide. H.R. 4775, the Compound 1080 and M-44 Elimination Act, deserves our support and needs our help.

So what’s the big deal? Besides being tasteless, odorless, colorless and highly concentrated, 1080 has no antidote. Wildlife Services, a branch of the USDA that traps, shoots and poisons over 1.7 million animals a year at taxpayer expense, began using the poison in the 1940’s as a way to kill rodents and other mammals. Today it’s still being used clandestinely to exterminate animals inconvenient to livestock and hobby ranchers, while leaving other animals – including humans – at risk. A coyote pupWildlife Services – previously known as Animal Damage Control – supplies 1080 in the form of collars attached to livestock to kill predators such as coyotes, foxes and wolves. But the victims’ tainted carcasses may be eaten, up to months later, by scavengers like bald eagles that also may suffer similar effects. Ironically, research has shown that killing coyotes actually increases coyote populations and even the USDA admits that only a small percentage of livestock deaths are actually caused by predators. More die from disease or exposure.

Manufactured solely at Tull Chemical Company in Oxford, Ala., much of 1080 is exported to New Zealand where it is dropped aerially and, according to a growing anti-1080 lobby there, "kills everything that consumes it and goes on killing." And kill it does, but very, very slowly. Victims start to experience symptoms – extreme pain, violent vomiting, involuntary hyperextension of limbs, hallucinations, terror, convulsions and collapse – about a half hour or more following exposure, but the agony may go on for several days.

If all this sounds like an indiscriminate war on wildlife, wait, there’s more: the FBI has listed Compound 1080 – which easily dissolves in water and is so toxic, according to scientists, that a teaspoonful can kill a hundred people – as a potential tool for terrorists. According to DeFazio, the U.S. Air Force has called it a biological agent, fueling fears of bio-terrorism risks to water supplies from pre-1972 stockpiles that were never collected. 1080 has also been classified by the EPA as a male reproductive toxin.

M-44 close upAnother poison H.R. 4775 would ban is the M-44 sodium cyanide device, packaged in a dispenser designed to eject sodium cyanide into victims’ mouths when activated and cause a relatively quick but painful death. Placed on public and private lands by government agents, these veritable land mines often inadvertently kill threatened and endangered species as well as companion dogs and cats and, because signage is often inadequate or nonexistent, have caused humans to become hapless victims as well. When several injured people sought help from federal authorities following exposure to M-44s, they were met with denial and defensiveness and found themselves nearly as voiceless as non-human victims. It took four years and nudges from Predator Defense and DeFazio for the EPA to decide to initiate a formal investigation into the poisoning of a Utah man who mistook a lethal contraption for a survey marker.

H.R. 4775 would prohibit the manufacture, processing and distribution of 1080 and M-44 capsules by requiring that the Secretary of Agriculture catalog, collect and destroy existing stockpiles during the 18 months following enactment. The bill would prohibit all use of 1080 and the use of M-44s by federal agents on federal or private lands. Following the 18-month period, possession of 1080 would be punishable criminally.

Tens of thousands of defenseless wild and companion animals die deplorable deaths every year because the U.S. ranching lobby is louder and wealthier than animal advocates. Although non-lethal livestock protection is available and more effective than extermination, we continue to pay for a pointless, futile slaughter. Shining a bright light on Wildlife Services’ secret land mines and the grave dangers they pose to all beings that come near them is long overdue. H.R. 4775, now in the hands of the Committees on Energy and Commerce, Agriculture, and Judiciary, is a crucial and prudent step in the right direction. But with strong opposition from the agriculture lobby, Predator Defense is seeking another 20 co-sponsors to add to the ten who have already signed on.

What can you do to help ensure this bill passes? Call or write your representative to ask him/her to co-sponsor the bill, and ask others to do the same. For contact info and current status of the bill, visit www.opencongress.org.

A few talking points:

  • Compound 1080 and M-44s are extremely inhumane and indiscriminate, often killing or harming endangered species, companion animals and humans.
  • Compound 1080 is one of the deadliest poisons on Earth and has no antidote.
  • Compound 1080 is a potential terrorist threat to water and food supplies.
  • Killing coyotes causes their populations to boom. See this letter by wildlife ecologist Robert Crabtree, PhD.
  • Ranchers should use non-lethal husbandry practices – such as guard animals, proper fencing and night penning – rather than predator extermination.

For more detailed information, visit www.predatordefense.org.

Photos courtesy of Brooks Fahy, Predator Defense.

Eileen Stark, a former staff member of ALDF’s Criminal Justice Program, is a conservationist, free lance writer and landscape designer. She also volunteers with Predator Defense.

One thought on “Ending the Chemical War Against Wildlife

  1. Colin says:

    Thank you for this information.

    and for caring.

    good site!

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