USDA halts use of M-44 'cyanide bombs' in Idaho following death of family pet

The federal government has agreed to halt the use of M-44 cyanide "bombs" to control predatory animals in Idaho after a 14-year-boy was injured and his dog killed by the controversial device.

Canyon Mansfield, 14, was knocked to the ground last month when an M-44 predator control device spewed cyanide gas into his face and killed his dog. The family had no knowledge the device -- set by the U.S. government some 350 yards from the Mansfields' doorstep -- was there.

Canyon Mansfield, left, with his dog, Casey.

Canyon Mansfield, left, with his dog, Casey.

Four conservation and animal-welfare groups also filed suit last week against the government over the M-44s after a gray wolf -- a protected species -- was accidentally killed by the device in Oregon.

In a letter Tuesday to conservation groups, the USDA's Wildlife Services program – which kills thousands of predators across the country annually – said it was halting the use of M-44s on all private, state, and federal lands in Idaho.

"We take seriously the incident in Idaho," the letter read.

"Currently, WS has ceased all use of M-44 devices on all land ownerships in the state of Idaho," it said. "WS has also removed all M-44s currently deployed on all land ownerships in Idaho."

It remains unknown whether Wildlife Services will decide to permanently halt the use of M44s. At least 19 conservation groups have filed a petition calling for the devices to be banned permanently.

In its letter, Wildlife Services informed the groups that “WS will notify you 30 days prior to placing any new M-44s in Idaho.”

The M-44s, also known as "coyote-getters," are designed to lure animals with a smelly bait. When an animal tugs on the device, a spring-loaded metal cylinder fires sodium cyanide powder into its mouth. The devices are placed on land by Wildlife Services -- a little-known branch of the USDA tasked with destroying animals seen as threats to people, agriculture and the environment.

Over the years, thousands of non-target animals -- wild and domestic -- have been mistakenly killed by the lethal devices.

Canyon Mansfield stumbled upon the unmarked device March 16 while running up a hill behind his parents' Pocatello, Idaho home with his 3-year-old golden Labrador, Casey.

When the M-44 detonated, the boy watched as his dog lay dying, suffocating from the orange-colored cyanide sprayed by the device. Since the incident, Canyon has experienced headaches, nausea and numbness and has visited a neurologist for testing, his mother, Theresa Mansfield, told Fox News.

The Mansfield dog's death follows a string of other recent incidents in which family pets and endangered species were accidentally killed by M-44s.

The government, meanwhile, has called the accidental death of family pets from M-44s a "rare occurrence," and said Wildlife Services posts signs and issues other warnings to alert pet owners when traps are placed near their homes.

On Tuesday, various conservation groups praised the decision to temorarily ban use of the devices in Idaho.

"This could well be the tipping point that leads to a nationwide ban of these extraordinarily dangerous devices via the legislation introduced in Congress last month," said Brooks Fahy, executive director of the national wildlife advocacy group, Predator Defense.

"As the recent cases in Idaho, Wyoming and Oregon amply demonstrate, M-44s endanger non-target wildlife, pets and children, no matter how they are used."

Andrea Santarsiere, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said, “We’re glad to see these indiscriminate killing devices being pulled from Idaho – that’s an important step toward protecting wildlife, people and pets from these cyanide bombs."

The groups petitioning for the M-44 ban included Western Watersheds Project, Predator Defense, WildEarth Guardians, the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Clearwater, Western Wildlife Conservancy and Nevada Wildlife Alliance.