M-44s are spring-activated sodium cyanide pipe devices that shoots a deadly dose of this poison -one of the most toxic chemicals approved by the EPA -into the animal's mouth when the animal tugs on the baited knob sticking out of the ground. The sodium cyanide combines with the water in the mouth to produce poisonous cyanide gas. The animal dies an excurciating death within minutes or painfully lingers over a long period of time.
These devices, that are strewn across our public lands, are used by the Wildlife Services, an agency housed within the US Department of Agriculture, to protect livestock by killing predators such as coyotes and foxes but wolves, bears, bobcats, eagles and dogs are also targeted. The devices are indiscriminate killers and any animal that tugs on the meat-scented device will be poisoned. Today, the agency spends over $100 million annually to kill millions of animals each year. In 2008 alone, Wildlife Services spent over $121 million to kill 4,996,899 animals.
Here is a heart-wrenching video of a first-hand account of an M-44 poisoning of a couple and their beloved dog.
Wildlife services spends 80 percent of its mostly public funding to protect cattle and sheep. However, the correlation between animals killed and benefits needs a serious look. The killing of 5 million predators at a cost of $1.6 billion from 1939 to 1998 had little effect on the sheep and cattle industry trends. Data from the National Agricultural Statistics Service, shows that each year only 2.9% of the total US sheep production is lost to predators, while 4.9% was lost to other causes such as illness, disease, lambing and weather. Cattle statistics reveal an even wider gap: In 2005, .18% of cattle were killed by predators and 3.7% died from other causes such as respiratory illness, weather and theft.
As of May 2010, a bill to ban this device has been proposed and is starting to recieve some Congrssional support. You can find out more info on how to help support this bill here.
Much of the above information and statistics was from an article, about the impact of the M-44 especially on the wolf population, in Brown University's Watershed magazine written by Lisa Upson. My class at RISD has been illustrating this beautifully designed environmental magazine for the past few years. I just couldn't get this article out of my head and thought it would be perfect fodder for a painting for the Earth: Fragile Planet Show opening tomorrow, June 4th, at Society of Illustrators. I'm very honored to be part of this show along with so many great friends and artists.