In 2017, a teenage boy named Canyon Mansfield was out on a dog walk near his family home in Idaho when he accidentally set off a cyanide trap that released poison into the air. His yellow Labrador, Casey, died almost immediately and 14-year-old Mansfield was hospitalized. Fortunately, he recovered. The case made national headlines, elucidating the danger of these poisonous traps, known as M-44s. These contraptions are utilized by the Wildlife Services to kill wild animals, though as was certainly the case with Mansfield, they target far more than simply one or two species of interest, with potentially life-threatening severity.
Mansfield’s parents posed the question as to why authorities hadn’t notified local residents of their presence, because of the risk they presented. Where else are these lurking across US terrain and what is being done to protect locals in those areas? Secondly, will the Trump administration ban or authorize their use? Lately, they can’t seem to make up their minds and this is cause for concern.
The entire concept of such devices raises a greater question about our authority over the natural world and whether we have the right to decide which species to cull, if any. Our interference with the natural order of things is—truly—what causes all of our problems. Homeostasis is a fine thing and it’s unfortunate that we can’t seem to keep our nose out.
M-44s are sodium cyanide devices used by the Wildlife Services—a federal agency that falls within the US Department of Agriculture. The department declares that its aim is “to resolve wildlife conflicts, to allow people and wildlife to coexist.” There appears, however, to be emphasis on human safety rather than preservation of endemic species: Last year, the agency killed more than 1.5 million wild animals across the country. This is where it becomes a philosophical debate: who are we to decide that coyotes, wolves and other key predators are “bad” while livestock is “good”?
Thinking that we can eliminate top predators from the food chain for fear of the threat to our livestock results in trophic cascades that throw the balance of everything else into total disarray. An excellent 2011 paper titled ‘Trophic Downgrading of Planet Earth’ summarized it perfectly, describing our interference in the form of removal of apex predators and top herbivores as having implications on “the dynamics of disease, wildfire, carbon sequestration, invasive species, and biogeochemical cycles.” Take a look at the top issues we face now (with critical implications for the future of civilization, I might add!) and we’re talking antibiotic resistance, climate change-induced weather extremes and pure negligence of finite natural resources.
When humans transitioned from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to what we see today, societies predominantly shifted from nomadic tribes to settlements living off of and working arable land. This brought to life the novel idea of property and ownership. We designate every square inch as someone’s property, and with that has come the arrogant mentality that we can do as we please without consequence. Deforestation for animal agriculture is just one example of how we’ve driven native species off their land. Urban sprawl is another.
As we continue to demarcate and prioritize capitalist wealth over ecosystem health and wellbeing, we maintain a niche for said devices to be made available by the powers that be. After all, there’s a lot of money in agriculture and livestock. If we’ve learned anything in recent times, it’s that unfortunately accumulation of wealth takes priority over just about anything else.
Ranchers have livelihoods and I appreciate that. I, personally, might choose not to consume meat, but I understand that many Americans do and so it’s important that those lobbying for a solid, black-and-white ban on M-44’s accepts that ranchers will demand other ways of protecting their livestock.
While humans can innovate and achieve marvelous things, we don’t have ethical claims to determine which species live at the expense of others—especially when livestock are being reared on land wrested from native wildlife. Is it really too much to ask that ranchers realize that there is an inherent risk in rearing animals on the territory of endemic carnivores?
Adequate fencing, motion-sensitive lighting and other tools can be utilized to deter predators without the risk of death by exposure to toxic M-44s. The government might be doing a dance back and forth about whether to please the ranchers or the wildlife advocates; but as more evidence comes to light about the importance of apex predators in our ecosystems, the greater case we’ll have about making these deadly devices a thing of the past. For now, let’s keep the ban and preserve the biodiversity. The health of America depends on it.
What are your thoughts on M-44’s?
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