Canyon Mansfield M-44

Canyon Mansfield watched his dog die and nearly lost his own life as a result of an M-44 “cyanide bomb” blast two years ago near his family’s Pocatello area home.

POCATELLO — Most of the snow has melted and the springtime days of heavy rain and high winds are numbered.

But for a Pocatello area teenager who two years ago watched his dog die in front of him during a spring day, summer can’t come soon enough.

Since 16-year-old Canyon Mansfield accidentally triggered an M-44 “cyanide bomb” that killed his Labrador retriever near the backyard of his family’s Buckskin Road home just outside of Pocatello in March 2017, he hasn’t stopped fighting — both for a permanent national ban on the deadly devices and against the lasting physical and physiological effects he experiences as a result of sodium cyanide exposure.

Mansfield has taken multiple trips to the U.S. Capitol to urge Congress to pass a nationwide ban on the use of the M-44s and recently was in Washington, D.C., to receive the Animal Hero award from the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Mansfield also has participated in a documentary about M-44s, which will have its Pocatello premiere at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Bengal Theater in Idaho State University’s Pond Student Union.

And as Mansfield learned about Oregon’s decision last week to ban the use of M-44s shortly after the reintroduction of a congressional bill known as Canyon’s Law calling for a national ban on the devices, he still grapples with headaches and post-traumatic stress from the moment one of the “cyanide bombs” almost killed him.

Mansfield, who just last week had to leave school early because of a debilitating migraine caused by his M-44 encounter, said he’ll “never forget” that day he lost his dog and was nearly himself killed.

“It was cloudy, windy and there was snow on the ground,” said Mansfield, who admits East Idaho’s spring weather serves as a grim reminder. “Everything was wet. Whenever I see that setting, I can’t help but think of that day.”

Driven into the ground like a tent stake, M-44s are spring-activated cylindrical tubes designed to kill predators such as wolves and coyotes by way of the highly poisonous chemical sodium cyanide. Officials with Wildlife Services — an obscure division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service agency — cover the devices with bait before placing them in areas around livestock. When a predator bites down on the bait, the device disperses the lethal sodium cyanide into the animal’s mouth and sinus cavity.

When Mansfield triggered the M-44 that killed Casey, he had mistaken the device for a sprinkler head.

M-44s are one of many lethal tools that Wildlife Services has used for predator control since the 1960s.

The devices replaced a more dangerous sodium cyanide ejector called “Humane Coyote Getters” that federal predator control agencies had used since as early as the 1930s. Federal agencies discontinued using coyote getters because of the potentially dangerous ramifications of the device, which discharged sodium cyanide using a .38-caliber special bullet.

The M-44 placed 300 yards from the Mansfield home in February 2017 was located on Bureau of Land Management land, which was a violation of a 2016 environmental assessment Wildlife Services conducted. Wildlife Services was only to place the devices on private land in Idaho, not on public lands.

While walking his then 3-year-old Labrador Casey along the ridge line of the hillside just south of his family’s home, Mansfield triggered an M-44 device, exposing himself to the sodium cyanide explosion. He watched helplessly as Casey died in front of him from the poison.

Though Wildlife Services agreed to ban the use of M-44s in Idaho shortly after the incident, that’s not good enough for the Mansfields. The family says it’s only a matter of time before the deadly devices claim the life of another pet or possibly a person.

“People think we want to take away predator control because of our fight against these ‘cyanide bombs,’” said Theresa Mansfield, Canyon’s mother. “But that’s just not true. I feel like a ‘cyanide bomb’ on the side of a mountain is like a loaded gun ready to go off. These are deadly devices and there is no way of preventing humans or pets from being exposed to them.”

Theresa’s sentiment echoes that of the theme for the documentary film set to show in Pocatello on Saturday. University of Montana graduate Jamie Drysdale filmed and produced the documentary, titled “Lethal Control.” Through the story of several people who have been exposed to the chemical sodium cyanide, the film centers on a single question directed at Wildlife Services: How are lethal devices that kill indiscriminately worth the safety risk?

Drysdale said the film has captivated audiences in New Mexico, Oregon and Washington, D.C. It’s also set to be shown in Sun Valley and Boise before the Pocatello screening.

“I’m stoked. It’s going to be special to play the film in Pocatello,” Drysdale said about the Pocatello showing. “The response so far has been great, with dozens of people staying after each showing to ask questions. The community in Pocatello has been so behind the Mansfield family while the government has been totally vacant on this. I’m looking forward to a good turnout this weekend.”

On top of participating in the film, the Mansfield family filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. government nearly a year ago seeking compensation in excess of $150,000 for emotional and economic damages as a result of Canyon’s M-44 encounter. The lawsuit is ongoing and the U.S. government has “expressly denied” any “alleged negligence by … its agencies or employees” and asked for the case to be dismissed.

The Mansfields’ lawsuit came on the heels of a separate but related lawsuit environmental and animal welfare groups including the Western Watersheds Project, WildEarth Guardians, the Center for Biological Diversity and Predator Defense filed in May 2017 seeking a nationwide M-44 ban.

U.S. officials in March 2018 agreed as part of a settlement to that lawsuit to complete a study on how two predator-killing poisons, including sodium cyanide, could be affecting federally protected species. Wildlife Services agreed to complete consultations with the Environmental Protection Agency by the end of 2021 regarding the poisons.

Much of the time and energy the Mansfield family has dedicated to their battle against M-44s has added undue tension to the relationship between Canyon, a sophomore student athlete at Century High School who takes advanced classes and wrestles, and his parents.

“It certainly has taken us through some hard times, but it has definitely bonded us, too,” Canyon said. “I just want something good to come out of this. I was given the opportunity to do something great because of a tragedy and I don’t want to pass that up. As hard as it may be, I want to keep going. I want to get these outlawed forever in the United States.”

It’s that attitude and commitment that motivated the International Fund for Animal Welfare to recognize Canyon during his most recent trip to Washington, D.C. Canyon received the Animal Hero award from Carson Barylak, the international fund’s campaigns officer, who says the recognition is for those who have sacrificed in some way to do something innovative to serve animals.

“Canyon did not intend to make the ultimate sacrifice of the loss of his friend, Casey, but he’s also made the sacrifice of being willing to relive that experience many times over to ensure that others don’t have to endure what he, his family, his community and, of course, his dog did,” Barylak said. “When it comes to M-44s, they are a threat to not only companion animals, dogs like Casey, but also to people, Canyon and his family, and wildlife. They are really not appropriate in any circumstance and so he has done what others haven’t been able to do in decades.”

Since Canyon’s M-44 encounter, U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, reintroduced the bipartisan and bicameral legislation in Congress on May 2 known as Canyon’s Law that would implement a nationwide ban on two lethal poisons used for wildlife control — the sodium cyanide used in M-44s and Compound 1080.

Four days later, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed into law a bill banning M-44s in that state. The law becomes effective in January 2020.

But members of the Idaho Legislature and the state’s U.S. congressional delegation have remained strangely reluctant to push for an M-44 ban, said Mark Mansfield, Canyon’s father.

Mark has asked U.S. Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch and Rep. Mike Simpson, all Idaho Republicans, to support Canyon’s Law.

“I haven’t heard anything back from them,” Mark told the Journal during a Wednesday phone interview. “But their head (staffers) have said they are not going to support any legislation that involves making M-44s illegal.”

Nonetheless, Barylak commends the Mansfields for not giving up. Regardless of the outcome of their lawsuit or the legislation at the federal level calling for a national M-44 ban, the Mansfield family has garnered more momentum in the battle against “cyanide bombs” than any person or individual has been able to do in the last several decades, Barylak said.

“This is a pivotal time in the decades-long fight to bring an end to the use of M-44s across the United States,” she added. “Thanks to Canyon and his tireless dedication to protecting people, pets and wildlife from deadly ‘cyanide bombs,’ legislative action has accelerated in an unprecedented manner. Public awareness and accompanying demands for reform have increased exponentially. Because of his advocacy, lives will be saved.”

Reporter Shelbie Harris can be reached at 208-239-3525. Follow him on Twitter: @shelbietharris.