How Animal Farming Hurts Free-Living Animals

The Impact of Animal Agriculture on Wildlife

Imagine your confusion and horror if, while walking on federal public lands, your dog stumbles across a device that looks like a sprinkler. Orange powder sprays all over your dog. That powder is sodium cyanide and it creates lethal hydrogen cyanide gas upon contact with moisture, resulting in a rapid and painful death.

This scenario has played out hundreds of  times with companion dogs in the last 10 years, the most recent victim being the dog of a 14 year old boy in Idaho[1]. The “sprinkler”? An M-44 cyanide trap laid by the United States Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services in an effort to control the population of wildlife species, all using taxpayer dollars.

M-44s are placed on public lands, often without public notice, with the goal of killing coyotes and other wild canids often to protect animals exploited for animal agriculture from predation[2]. The “bite and pull” method by which they are deployed is indiscriminate, and often the “incidental” victim of an M-44 is a non-predatory species, a companion animal, typically dogs, or a human[3]. Additional example of Wildlife Services’ cruel practices include aerial depredation, or harassing and shooting wild animals from helicopters, and wire traps that maim any animal they catch, leading to an agonizing and slow death[4].

The rationale for USDA Wildlife Services’ work is that the threat to animal agriculture exceeds the costs and risks of “predator control”.  There is little empirical evidence to support this claim. In addition to a Livestock Indemnity Program that compensates producers for animals killed by wildlife[5], there are many inexpensive, proactive, and non-lethal methods of protecting herds and flocks from predators[6]. Ironically, predator species encroach upon ranches and farms because they have been driven out of their habitats and their ecological niches destroyed by pollution and deforestation caused by animal agriculture.

Wildlife Services’ methods kill more animals, many of whom are threatened or endangered, points to their ineffectiveness[3]. Add to these cruel methods of population control the fact that more and more scientific reports conclude that Wildlife Services causes environmental harm through lost biodiversity and disrupted ecological systems[7]. In the words of Kelly Nokes, an advocate with WildEarth Guardians, “The federal government has a paramount duty to protect people and wildlife from deadly poisons that unnecessarily endanger the public, wildlife and companion animals”[8]. There is no justification for or benefit from  the USDA Wildlife Services’ taxpayer funded, ineffective, non-transparent, and unaccountable war on wildlife.

While USDA Wildlife Services has historically been influenced by the power of corporate animal agriculture and hunting lobbies in what programs they choose to operate and how[9], the fact remains that they rely on taxpayer dollars to operate those programs. As a taxpayer and American citizen, you have the power to declare Wildlife Services’ practices unjust and to demand change.

It will take a change in federal law, a federal legal injunction, or a determination by the USDA to temporarily or permanently stop the use of M-44 cyanide traps. There is currently an indefinite ban in Idaho, a temporary injunction in Colorado, and a temporary ban in six Oregon counties. Additionally, several activist organizations are suing to implement a nationwide legal ban via the federal court system while other organizations are introducing federal legislation[10, 11]. But there is still a need for civic action.

The first step is to contact your federal representatives and demand that Wildlife Services find non-lethal and environmentally sound methods of population control. The work of Wildlife Services has continued unabated because it is successfully hidden from wide scale public view, but putting pressure on representatives will help make this a legislative priority. You can find your House Representative here: and your Senators here:

Going vegan and encouraging others to do the same will reduce the demand for animal products. As the market shrinks, fewer ranchers and farmers will request that Wildlife Services kill predators to protect herds and flocks. A switch to plant-based agriculture will also hopefully lessen the environmental impacts that pressure wildlife into conflict with humans. That being said, “pest” management on plant-based farms can be harmful and lethal to wildlife as well, so it is important to contact farms and ask them about their handling of wild animals, like rats, mice, and birds. Financially supporting farms and companies focused on feeding the world in truly sustainable and ethical fashions will be critical in protecting our health, animals, the environment, and the future.

[1] Bump, Philip. “A Dog in Idaho Was Killed by a Cyanide Trap Laid by the U.S. Government.” TheWashington Post, 21 March 2017, -cyanide-trap-laid-by-the-u-s-government/?utm_term=.4783bdb000ba.
[2] United States, Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services. “M-44 Device for Predator Control.” June 2017.
[3] Knudson, Tom. “The killing agency: Wildlife Services’ brutal methods leave a trail of animal death.” The Sacramento Bee, 8 October 2014,
[4] Bale, Rachel. “This Government Program’s Job Is to Kill Wildlife.” National Geographic, 12 February 2016,
[5] United States, Department of Agriculture, Farm Service Agency. “Livestock Indemnity Program.”October 2017. heet_oct2017.pdf
[6] Project Coyote. (n.d.). Nonlethal Solutions to Reduce Conflicts: Helping Livestock and Predator to Coexist. Retrieved from
[7] The Humane Society of the United States. (2016). Wildlife Disservice: The USDA Wildlife Services’ Inefficient and Inhumane Wildlife Damage Management Program (Rep.). Retrieved from
[8] Project Coyote. (2017, August 10). Conservationists Seek Nationwide Ban on Wildlife-killing M-44 ‘Cyanide Bombs’ [Press release]. Retrieved from
[9] Predator Defense. (n.d.). The USDA’s War on Wildlife. Retrieved from
[10] Theen, Andrew. “Environmental groups petition EPA to ban cyanide devices linked to wolf death.” The Oregonian, 10 August 2017
[11] The Chemical Poisons Reduction Act of 2017, H.R. 1817, 115th Congress (2017).

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