Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Lethal Dose: Agents Poison Wildlife on Public Lands

It can take minutes or even hours, but no matter how quickly it comes, the death is never painless. The body is seized with violent convulsions; the eyes roll back in the head. And amid all the thrashing, there's the constant, desperate gasping for breath. This is death by the lethal toxin Compound 1080 -- one of two poisons that kill some 13,000 animals every year on our public lands, including ecologically important predators like coyotes, wolves, bears, bobcats and foxes. And believe it or not, American taxpayers are footing a big part of the bill.

Wildlife Services, a division of the Department of Agriculture, spends $100 million annually to kill millions of wild animals. As part of that program, toxic poisons are strewn across public wildlands by government agents. They deploy two of the world's most lethal toxins, Compound 1080 and sodium cyanide, intending to kill would-be predators that might threaten livestock. NRDC is fighting to put an end to this deadly misuse of our tax dollars.

"The government shouldn't be doing the dirty work of agribusiness, especially on our own public lands," said Louisa Willcox, NRDC senior wildlife advocate. "These poisons are indiscriminate. They'll kill any animal that comes in contact with them." That includes hundreds of nontarget animals, as well as people's pets. In Oregon, Amanda Wood Kingsley was exposed to sodium cyanide after her dog Ruby stumbled upon a government-set trap. It took a full 15 minutes for Ruby to die as Amanda desperately tried to save her life. Ruby had tripped an M-44, a spring-loaded device that shoots a pellet of sodium cyanide directly into the animal's mouth. The EPA has rated both sodium cyanide and Compound 1080 in Toxicity Category I, the highest degree of acute toxicity. Compound 1080 is so lethal that a single teaspoonful can kill 100 people. Many other countries have banned its use.

"We're paying to poison our own public lands, even though there are effective alternatives for controlling predators that are far less harmful," said Willcox. "Our public forests and lands exist for our enjoyment and the preservation of nature. They should be safe places for wildlife, our pets and our families." Tens of thousands of NRDC Members and online activists have taken action and petitioned Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to stop this needless killing.


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