A Wildlife Services "biologist" places an M-44 device.

Remove Wildlife Services from the Mexican Wolf Program

Earlier this year, an agent of USDA Wildlife Services was caught in the act of killing a Mexican wolf. The agent, described by his employer as a “wildlife specialist,” claimed to have misidentified the wolf, presumably confusing it with one of the coyotes routinely slaughtered by the agency.

How is the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) responding to this incident? Buried in their proposed revision to the Mexican wolf program is the following: “We added language to the provisions for allowable take for authorized personnel to clarify that Wildlife Services personnel will not be in violation of the Act or this rule for take of a Mexican wolf that occurs while conducting official duties.”

The bureaucratic language suggests that USFWS does not consider this a major change. Perhaps this is because Wildlife Services was involved in the Mexican wolf program from its inception. In answering critics of the initial program, USFWS declared: “The Service believes leg-hold traps are an essential tool for wolf management.” They proceeded to include Wildlife Services as part of the Interagency Field Team to implement the Mexican wolf program.

Wildlife Services agents are familiar with economic concepts like depredation, not biological concepts like predation. Long known as Predator and Rodent Control, later renamed Animal Damage Control, the USDA agency now known as Wildlife Services has always been dedicated to killing wolves, coyotes and other predators, along with such dangerous creatures as prairie dogs, on behalf of the livestock industry. The livestock industry has been able to depend on Wildlife Services to kill predators, using leghold traps and M-44 cyanide-laced traps.

Wildlife Services describes M-44s as follows:

A Wildlife Services "biologist" places an M-44 device.

A Wildlife Services “biologist” places an M-44 device.

“The M-44 device is triggered when a canid (i.e. coyote or wild dog) tugs on the baited capsule holder, releasing the plunger and ejecting sodium cyanide powder into the animal’s mouth. The sodium cyanide quickly reacts with moisture in the animal’s mouth, releasing hydrogen cyanide gas. Unconsciousness, followed by death, is very quick, normally within 1 to 5 minutes after the device is triggered. ”


Wolves, of course, are also canids, which explains why Wildlife Services agents cannot distinguish them from coyotes. How many wolves will die from a “quick” 5-minute gassing?