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Controlling coyotes: M-44s hit news as another controversial issue

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Several weeks ago, an incident in Idaho with the use of a M-44 device by USDA’s Wildlife Services (WS) led to the hospitalization of a teenager and death a dog, which caused a flurry of sensational news that emphasized the negative impacts of the devices.

Following the incident, WS agreed to temporarily stop the use of M-44 devices in Idaho in response to a petition filed, but the use of the devices is critical in controlling coyotes in 12 states across the West.

“National scrutiny on the use of M-44’s is strong,” says American Sheep Industry (ASI) Executive Director Peter Orwick. “Many animal rights groups have been pushing lawsuits and legislation to ban the tool because they are against lethal removal of predators.”

Using M-44

M-44s are primarily used for coyote damage management, and they are placed along game trails, livestock trails, fence lines and seldom-used ranch roads.

“In addition, the M-44 is registered for the control of communicable disease vectors, such as coyotes that carry rabies,” explains ASI.

They work by ejecting sodium cyanide powder into the mouth of predators. The device is triggered when the animal pulls on the baited M-44 top.

“The sodium cyanide powder reacts with the moisture in the animal’s mouth, which releases hydrogen cyanide gas,” ASI says. “Death occurs from 10 seconds to two minutes after the device is triggered.”

ASI explains that extensive studies have been done to prevent adverse effects to the environment or non-target animals.

“In placing M-44s in the field, WS personnel use their expertise in animal behavior patterns to minimize the risk of attracting non-target animals to the device, they added.

Use in Wyoming

In Wyoming, M-44 devices are permitted for use by licensed private and commercial pesticide applicators, which are certified by the Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA).

WDA Predator Management Coordinator Kent Drake explains that there are very few private applicators in the state of Wyoming. The majority of certified applicators are commercial applicators who are independent contract trappers working for county predator board and WS employees.

“WDA has a different label for M-44s than WS does, but all applicators are licensed using the same training program,” Drake says. “We also have inspectors that make sure WDA applicators and WS applicators are conforming to the requirements.”

Mike Foster, WS Wyoming director, says, “We can and do set M-44s on state, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and private land.”

He notes that currently, requirements for M-44 use include 26 use restrictions, ranging from placement restrictions to training requirements.

“We do not set M-44s in known occupied wolf habitat or in known grizzly bear habitat during the time that the bears are out of their dens,” Foster says. “There  are several counties where we do not use M-44s at all, either because we have no presence in the county or because of conflicts with wolves or grizzly bears make them too hazardous to set them.”

Foster emphasizes that, where threatened and endangered species exist, M-44s are not used.

M-44s have been used in Wyoming since 1974, and a similar device called a Coyote Getter was used before that. As of April 25, 184 devices were in use by WS across the state.

“The number of M-44s in use fluctuates on a regular basis, as trappers set and remove individual devices,” Foster explains. “They are generally most used in the winter months, and during the summer, we generally have no devices set.”

Since Oct. 1, 2014, WS has removed 535 coyotes and 107 red fox using M-44 devices.

Agriculture importance

M-44 devices are important to control predators for the agriculture industry.

“From an agriculture standpoint, M-44s are very beneficial for the protection of cattle and sheep,” Drake says. “Especially this time of year, we’re lambing and calving, and there are many young animals on the ground. It’s critical because predators also have their own young and don’t have as much to eat. This is a high-demand time where we see predators depredate livestock.”

The M-44 devices are also highly selective for canids as a result of the manner and location that they are placed and the bait utilized.

Foster adds that the highly selective nature of M-44s provide an extremely important predator control tool, commenting, “M-44s provide a way to target coyotes, especially during the winter, when they are otherwise difficult to reach.”

“We require applicators to report the number of takes, including unintended losses,” Drake explains. “We see very few unintended losses. In the last eight years, we’ve had a black bear, one wolf and a few ravens.”

When the wolf was killed, an intensive investigation found that the wolf was outside an area of known wolf occupation and the applicator utilized the device according to all rules.

Other benefits

In addition to their effectiveness, Drake says that M-44s leave no residual cyanide in the environment or in the carcass of affected targets.

“The sodium cyanide isn’t residual in the animals,” Drake explains. “It’s only activated by moisture. When the sodium cyanide reacts with moisture, it creates a hydro-cyanic gas, which kills the animal.”

“After the devices go off, the gas dissipates into the environment very quickly,” he continues. “From an environmental standpoint, they’re very safe and not harmful to other wildlife.”

Important device

“M-44s are cost-efficient, simple devices,” Foster emphasizes, “and, when used according to regulations, they are a great asset to any predator control program.”

Orwick comments, “We advise that people visit with their congressional delegations and predator management folks on the state-level about the effectiveness and safety of the M-44.”

“In the dozen states that use the M-44, it is critical for livestock protection,” Orwick emphasizes. “In some states, 30 to 40 percent of coyotes are taken using M-44s.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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