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Trump’s EPA Re-Approves ‘Cyanide Bombs’ Deadly to Coyotes, Foxes and Feral Dogs, other Wildlife

Animals
Trump’s EPA Re-Approves ‘Cyanide Bombs’ Deadly to Coyotes, Foxes and Feral Dogs, other Wildlife
Coyote pictured at Yellowstone National Park. Hanna May / Unsplash

Wildlife advocacy groups cheered when the Trump administration reversed its decision to approve the use of deadly predator traps known as "cyanide bombs" in August. But now the administration has reversed course again. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published an interim decision Thursday and approved their use with added safety measures.


"This appalling decision leaves cyanide traps lurking in our wild places to threaten people, pets, and imperiled animals," carnivore conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity Collette Adkins said in a joint press release from wildlife groups. "The EPA imposed a few minor restrictions, but these deadly devices have just wreaked too much havoc to remain in use. To truly protect humans and wildlife from these poisonous contraptions, we need a nationwide ban."


Cyanide bombs, otherwise known as M-44s, are spring-loaded traps that target livestock predators like coyotes, foxes and feral dogs, Time explained. When animals bite down on bait, cyanide is released into their mouths, killing them. They are used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Wildlife Service on public lands, as well as by state agencies in South Dakota, Montana, New Mexico and Texas.

They became especially controversial after one of them injured a young boy in Idaho in 2017 and killed his dog. Idaho then prohibited their use on public lands, according to the joint press release, and Oregon and Colorado have also issued temporary bans, Time reported. When the EPA opened a public comment period on reauthorizing the use of the traps at the end of 2018, "an overwhelming majority" of the 20,000 comments it received opposed them. Environmental groups credited this public outcry with the EPA's decision in August to reverse its initial approval of the traps.

But the livestock industry supports the use of the traps and praised the EPA's new authorization.

"We sincerely appreciate USDA and EPA working together to ensure livestock producers have access to effective predator control, while also increasing public awareness and transparency," American Sheep Industry Association President Benny Cox said in the EPA announcement. "Livestock producers face heavy losses from predators, amounting to more than $232 million in death losses annually. We are particularly vulnerable during lambing and calving, where we see the worst predation."

To appease worries about trap safety, the EPA is issuing new restrictions. These include:

  1. Prohibiting the use of traps within 600 feet of a residence, except with the landowner's permission
  2. Extending the buffer zone around public roads from 100 to 300 feet
  3. Placing two elevated warning signs within 15 feet of the traps.

But wildlife advocates say the restrictions do not go far enough to protect humans or animals.

"Tightening up use restrictions is turning a blind eye to the reality of M-44s," Predator Defense Executive Director Brooks Fahy said in the press release. "In my 25 years working with M-44 victims, I've learned that Wildlife Services' agents frequently do not follow the use restrictions. And warning signs will not prevent more dogs, wild animals, and potentially children from being killed. They cannot read them. M-44s are a safety menace and must be banned."

The traps killed 6,579 animals in 2018 and at least 13,232 in 2017, according to Wildlife Services data. Two-hundred of the animals killed in 2017 did not belong to the species targeted by the traps, and included opossums, raccoons and one bear.

Fish exposed to endocrine-disrupting compounds, like this inland silverside fish, can pass on health problems to future generations. Bill Stagnaro / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 3.0

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By Elliot Douglas

In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."

The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

But the pair are only the frontmen of a much larger movement which has been in development for several years. In addition to a panel of experts who will decide on the winners, the prize's formation took advice from the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Jack Ma Foundation.

With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

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