POCATELLO — The Pocatello teenager who experienced vomiting, headaches and couldn’t sleep for a month after triggering an M-44 “cyanide bomb” one year ago this week has physically recovered.
But emotionally, the specter of watching his dog die before his eyes is much like the physical burning pain associated with cyanide exposure — seared forever into 15-year-old Canyon Mansfield’s memory are images of his best friend’s last breaths.
“Whenever I think of that hill or hear the word ‘cyanide’ I think of that moment when (the dog) was freaking out and didn’t know what was going on,” Canyon said. “That will probably stay with me my entire life. Every time I hear the word ‘cyanide’ it will trigger that memory and will be something I’ll never really get rid of.”
While walking his 3-year-old Labrador, Kasey, along the ridgeline of the hillside just south of his family’s home on West Buckskin Road near Pocatello last March, Canyon triggered an M-44 predator control device — a spring-loaded metal cylinder that is baited with scent and shoots sodium cyanide powder into the mouth or face of whatever or whoever touches it.
After watching Kasey convulse and die in front of him, Canyon experienced symptoms of cyanide poisoning for weeks after receiving treatment at a local hospital.
After the incident, the agency responsible for placing the M-44 device just 300 yards away from the Mansfield’s home, Wildlife Services — which is a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) — implemented a temporary ban on the use of M-44s in Idaho. Representatives from Wildlife Services hosted an informational meeting on the devices in Pocatello.
Furthermore, lawsuits were filed against Wildlife Services, both by the Mansfield family and several environmental groups.
Legislation calling for a permanent ban of poisonous chemicals like sodium cyanide in predator-control devices was introduced shortly after the incident.
But one year later, the Mansfields’ lawsuit is still being litigated and the only directive on the books regarding the use of M44s is an agreement resulting from the environmental groups’ lawsuit. The agreement calls for Wildlife Services to consult with the Environmental Protection Agency by 2021 to study the effects of M-44 devices, which are thought by many to be archaic, indiscriminate killers.
In a call to action, five environmental groups are co-sponsoring a movie screening and informational event in Pocatello on Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Bengal Theater located inside Idaho State University’s Pond Student Union Building.
The event will feature a showing of the award-winning film “EXPOSED: USDA’s Secret War on Wildlife,” which chronicles the story of three former federal agents and a Congressman as they take on what filmmaker Brooks Fahy calls “Wildlife Services’ secret war on wildlife.”
After the screening, Fahy, who is the executive director of Predator Defense, a national wildlife advocacy group, and members from the Western Watersheds Project, Advocates for the West, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and Friends of the Clearwater Carson will host an open forum.
“The Mansfield family has really given this issue a face,” said Carson Barylak, IFAW campaigns officer. “They certainly aren’t the first individuals to be adversely impacted by M-44s and Wildlife Services’ other inhumane wildlife killing devices, but they really made it a mission of theirs that no other family has to endure what their family went through.”
The Mansfield family traveled to Washington, D.C., last year to advocate for the passing of H.R. 1817, “The Chemical Poisons Reduction Act of 2017,” also nicknamed “Canyon’s Law” in honor of Canyon.
Since then, Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson was able to put language in the 2018 Agriculture Appropriations bill that would be a first step to identifying alternatives to the current predator control devices, according to an email statement from Nikki Wallace, Simpson’s district and communications director. Wallace said a review of the Wildlife Services program would help better inform future decisions.
Other Idaho delegates also commented on the legislation on Tuesday.
“Sen. Risch understands the Mansfield family’s concerns,” said Kaylin Minton, communications director for U.S. Senator Jim Risch. “H.R. 1817 has been introduced in the House of Representatives where it is currently undergoing the normal legislative process. When the bill comes before the Senate, Sen. Risch will fully review it.”
Robert Sumner, U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo’s communications director said, “H.R. 1817 has yet to be considered by the relevant committees in the House or voted on since its introduction in 2017. Should it come before the Senate, Sen. Crapo would consider the legislation and how it would affect all stakeholders and public safety.”
Asked to summarize the last year as it relates to dealing with the aftermath of her son almost dying from cyanide poisoning, Theresa Mansfield, Canyon’s mother, said the first word that comes to mind is frustration.
“I am frustrated that the government has taken no responsibility,” Theresa said. “They poisoned my dog and my child, and fortunately my child survived, but I am frustrated that they continue to want to bring back these cyanide bombs.”
Canyon’s father, Mark Mansfield, said the family has healed tremendously over the last year, adding that he still has days of anxiety and emotion surrounding the safety of his family. One of those days happened just last month when Mark learned that Dennis Slaugh, 75, of Murray, Utah, passed away.
For years, Slaugh experienced extremely high blood pressure, difficulty breathing, daily vomiting and the inability to work as a Caterpillar D8 driver for Uintah County because he was too weak to climb up into the machine’s rungs, the Salt Lake Tribune reported in 2008.
Slaugh and his brother were riding all-terrain vehicles on U.S. Bureau of Land Management land in Cowboy Canyon near Bonanza when Slaugh noticed what he thought was a survey stake. He reached to brush it off and it fell over. When he picked it up, it exploded, sending a cloud of granules into his nose, mouth and eyes, according to the 2008 Salt Lake Tribune story.
Those granules were sodium cyanide. Mark on Tuesday showed the Journal a copy of Slaugh’s death certificate. Under the cause of death read the words, “Other significant conditions: Cyanide Poisoning / Exposure from M44 Device 2002.”
“When Dennis died, it freaked me out,” Mark said. “Suddenly I’m calculating doses again — trying to figure the dermal exposure, oral exposure and inhalation exposure. I’m almost going into a panic before finally settling down and thinking that God didn’t save Canyon to wound him.”
In addition to recovering physically, the Mansfield family has done what they can to heal emotionally, starting with Mark using the experience as a teaching tool for Canyon.
“We’ve been labeled victims, and one thing I’ve told Canyon is that we are not victims,” Mark said. “You are a victim if something bad happens to you and you lay down and complain about it and you let it define who you are. We are not victims, and I decided to teach my son what to do when something isn’t right. I’ve taught him to stand up and fix it, not only for yourself but for those around you and for society.”
In Mark’s opinion, what’s insane is the fact that the device that almost killed his son is solely manufactured in Pocatello. In July 2014, Pocatello Supply Depot transitioned from being a private company to a fully federalized facility operated exclusively by Wildlife Services, according to documents posted to APHIS’s website.
For Mark, the irony lies in the notion that toxic cyanide predator control devices are manufactured in his hometown and not one official in the chain of emergency responders even knew about it.
Barylak echoed Mark’s sentiment.
“On M-44s being manufactured in Pocatello, I think that really underscores how outrageous this problem is,” Barylak said. “The police officers and emergency personnel did not know that these M-44s were in place. The doctors at the hospital didn’t know there was potential exposure to the public and basically everybody in the chain of command in terms of emergency response were unaware of the presence of M-44 cyanide bombs in the community.”
Barylak continued, “The fact that M-44s are not only being used in Pocatello, but are actually being manufactured and having the various substances handled there is pretty shocking.”