In 2017, 14-year-old Canyon Mansfield went for a walk with his dog on the public land behind his house in Pocatello. Along the way, he accidentally triggered a landmine that sprayed him with cyanide.
Mansfield survived the encounter, saved only by the direction of the wind, but he did suffer severe injuries and remains haunted by long-term health problems. In the minutes that followed the triggering of the device, he watched—poisoned—as his beloved dog Kasey died.
The device was an M-44 cyanide bomb, placed there by the federal government. The USDA Wildlife Services agency employs hundreds of M-44s across 15 states, including Oregon, Montana and Idaho.
The new film “Lethal Control” explores Canyon Mansfield’s story and directly confronts “federal poisoning campaigns.” University of Montana graduate student Jamie Drysdale directed the film as the culmination of his master’s program in environmental journalism.
The film, which debuted this past March at the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference at the University of Oregon and had a second screening in Washington, D.C., for congressional staff members, will make its Idaho debut this Thursday, May 16, at The Community Library in Ketchum.
A panel discussion will follow, featuring Drysdale, Erik Molvar of the Western Watersheds Project, Brooks Fahy of Predator Defense, and members of the Mansfield family. They will help shed some light on the ongoing crusade against M-44s.
The government deploys M-44s on both public and private lands to kill coyotes that threaten livestock. The cyanide bombs are designed in such a way that makes them extremely easy to trigger, and although they are baited specifically to attract coyotes, they engage no deterrents for other animals and no eye-catching warning signs for humans.
Over the years, although they have proved affective coyote-killers, M-44 devices have also claimed the lives of countless pets, dozens of livestock animals—animals they are specifically intended to protect—non-target wild animals including endangered species, and unsuspecting humans like Canyon Mansfield, records indicate.
For decades, various groups across the country have organized concerted efforts to pass state and federal legislation to ban the use of the cyanide bombs. Some states, including Idaho, have greatly reduced and even temporarily abandoned M-44 deployment, but the threat remains, and each year, the devices claim more unintended victims.
One of these activist groups, Predator Defense, began its anti-cyanide-bomb campaign in 1990. The nonprofit organization aims to protect America’s native predators and end unsafe wildlife management practices. Fahy, the group’s executive director, will join the panel discussion at the library following the screening.
“This is a vital public safety issue being addressed,” Fahy said. “M-44s simply cannot be used safely. They must be banned nationwide before a child is killed.”
Last month’s screening of “Lethal Control” in Washington, D.C., featured an introduction by Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio, who reintroduced bipartisan legislation to the House of Representatives on May 2, 2019, with the objective of criminalizing all M-44 use nationwide, whether by government agencies or private enterprises.
Despite these efforts and the well-documented history of M-44s injuring humans and killing non-target animals, the USDA remains reluctant to amend its practices, the director notes.
“The two biggest barriers to change are money and tradition,” Drysdale said. “There are numerous ways to protect livestock that are safer than cyanide traps, time-tested techniques using guard dogs which have been specifically bred for centuries for the exact purpose of guarding livestock from canids.”
“More responsible practices cost money, though,” Drysdale said, and the government and private landowners are reluctant to pay, despite the risks. The reaction, instead, has been to downplay the threat. Last year, the Idaho State Journal newspaper reported that the Justice Department, in response to a liability lawsuit levied against the federal government for the Mansfield incident, placed the blame squarely on young Canyon Mansfield.
The article quotes environmental attorney Andrea Santarsiere, saying, “Rather than apologize for having a poisonous device on public lands that injured a young boy and killed his dog, the government instead is using a tactic to blame the boy.”
“It certainly shows the disconnect between Washington and smaller communities around the country,” Drysdale said. “I think that when you don’t see the problem in its raw form, in your own community as Pocatello did with Canyon Mansfield and his dog, the urgency is not there.”
Still, with continued pressure on both state and federal governments, the anti-M-44 groups are making progress. “Lethal Control” is also gaining momentum, with screenings in Pocatello and Boise scheduled for the days following the Ketchum showing and a television premiere on PBS coming up.
The screening at The Community Library is free and open to the public. The film will start at 6 p.m. and runs a little under an hour in length. The panel discussion and question-and-answer session will follow.