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IN DEPTH: What is the device that killed a family dog and why have lawsuits been filed over its use?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services and the Bannock County Sheriff’s Office are investigating the death of a family dog after an M44 device detonated, poisoning the dog and spraying cyanide gas onto a 14-year-old Pocatello boy.

The incident happened on the 4600 block of Buckskin Road Thursday night, a press release said. A man told the sheriff’s office his son was playing with the family dog when a device detonated near them. The device, later identified as a predator control device (M44), was located on a ridgeline above their home.

The boy was not seriously injured. The rest of his family was evaluated at a local hospital and released.

According to the United States Humane Society, who is against the use of M44s, an M44 is a spring-loaded device that, usually, smells like meat and is placed into the ground. The Humane Society says when triggered, the M44 releases a lethal dose of cyanide into the air.

“Nobody had even heard of this before,” Cami Taysom, a neighbor who lives in the area of Buckskin Road, told KIFI/KIDK.

Taysom, and other neighbors in the area said they have never seen the small spring-like device in their area before. Neighbors also said they have never seen warning signs posted in the area, something the USDA requires. According to a 2010 directive from a USDA deputy administrator “bilingual warning signs in English and Spanish shall be used in all areas containing M-44 devices. All such signs shall be removed when M-44 devices are removed.”

In a statement released Friday afternoon, the USDA said it did place signs in the area. “It [wildlife services] posts signs and issues other warnings to alert pet owners when wildlife traps or other devices are being used in an area for wildlife damage management,” the press release said.

It is unclear when the devices were placed in the hills behind Buckskin Road, but the 2010 USDA directive states “an M-44 device shall be removed from an area if, after 30 days, there is no sign that a target predator has visited the site.” The directive also says the device must be checked every week, weather permitting.

The land in which the deadly device was placed is considered Bureau of Land Management property. According to the USDA, the BLM should have been notified of the placement “to determine whether any portions of the projected or current M-44 use areas are, or are to be, set aside for recreational use.” It is unclear if that notification occurred.

Neighbors say regardless, they should have been notified.

“I’d like to know how many are out there and where are they and why are they out there,” Taysom said. “We seriously do not have a coyote problem, we do not have a predator problem we do not have free range animals. So as a concerned resident of the area, it would have been nice to be informed.”

The Pocatello incident is just one of several documented cases of family pets or humans being killed or hurt by M44s, according to the website Predator Defense. The website published a story dated March 11, 2017, of a case out of Wyoming. According to the article, two dogs were killed during a walk about 50 miles northwest of Casper. In 2012, a Texas dog was killed by an M44 device placed 918 feet away from its home, the website reports. That device, as with the Pocatello device, was placed by the USDA Wildlife Services.

While not an epidemic, enough dogs have been killed by M44s in recent years to spark a backlash among environmentalists and dog owners. In 2016, several groups filed suit against Idaho’s Wildlife Services of the use of the device. According to the complaint, the groups said Wildlife Services are violating EPA rules by using the M44s.

“Our suit seeks to halt all federal wolf control and killing activities being performed in Idaho until the agency doing the killing, USDA Wildlife Service, completes an updated, valid Environmental Impact Statement,” a release about the lawsuit on Predator Defenders website said. “The suit declares that Wildlife Services has not only completely ignored the best available science, but also failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act.

The release continued, “In the last five years since wolves lost federal protection, Idaho has become the national poster child for wolf-killing. Before delisting in 2011, Idaho had the largest wolf population in the Rockies, at approximately 1,000. Idaho is now the biggest wolf-killing state in the Lower 48. Hunters and trappers have killed over 1,500, and hundreds more have been killed by government and private sources. Idaho’s Governor wants to bring the total wolf population down to 150, a scientifically egregious and socially heinous goal.”

The United States Humane Society says coyotes and wolves are usually the intended targets of M44s.

Research by KIFI/KIDK could not confirm the status of the lawsuit. A similar group filed suit in Oregon in 2016. Its status is unclear. The group was successful in a lawsuit filed against Washington State in 2015.

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