Coyotes caused an estimated $2.9 million in sheep and lamb losses in 2017 in Wyoming, according to a federal review. A U.S. Department of Agriculture report says its wildlife-damage program killed 4,503 coyotes in Wyoming in 2017. (U.S. Marines/Wikimedia Commons)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture in an annual report released last month lists 164 coyotes killed in Wyoming with M-44 “cyanide bombs” in 2017.

Including the number killed by the baited, poison devices, the federal program dispatched 4,503 coyotes in the state, the report shows. The killings were part of department efforts to protect a wide variety of resources, including farm and ranch livestock, from wildlife damage.

The 2017 M-44 coyote death number was 72 fewer than were killed by the devices in 2016 — 236 coyotes — according to records. Some residents have criticized the devices that spray a lethal dose of poison into the mouths of animals that take the bait. Critics say M-44s are indiscriminate and could kill non-targeted species, including pets.

An M-44 placed on private property killed two dogs near Casper last year, for example, prompting an outcry. The federal Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services, the arm of the Department of Agriculture that operates the killing program, listed two unintentional wildlife deaths by M-44s last year, both red foxes.

M-44s killed another 36 red foxes as intended, the report says.

Use of M-44s is under review by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services for their potential effect on endangered species, said Collette Adkins, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group that sued over M-44 use. The center, along with other groups, challenged the federal government’s use of sodium cyanide, the active ingredient in M-44s, and another poison, compound 1080. The groups settled that action earlier this year in an agreement that sets a 2021 deadline for the review, she said.

Some agriculture interests in Wyoming have rejected using M-44s in areas where endangered species roam in numbers.

Once Fish and Wildlife has concluded its review, the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates use of M-44s, will decide how and whether the state and Wildlife Services, the arm of the department that carries out the wildlife damage program, can continue using them.

20,604 animals killed, most of which were starlings

All told, the federal program killed 20,604 animals in Wyoming in 2017, records show. More than half — 11,976 — were animals classified as invasive species.

Nationwide, the wildlife damage program “dispersed,” or chased off, far more animals than it killed, according to the report. Fully 93.52 percent of animals affected were “dispersed” compared to 6.37 percent killed, euthanized, removed or destroyed, the annual report says. In Wyoming only 353 animals were dispersed in 2017, the report states.

The European Starling was the most targeted species in Wyoming in 2017 and most of those killed were done in with the poison DRC-1339. (George Hodan/Public Domain Pictures)

Among the species killed in Wyoming, European starlings, an invasive species of bird, topped the list.

The federal program killed 11,523 European starlings in Wyoming with the poison DRC-1339. It also used that poison to kill 968 ravens, 159 black-billed magpies and 224 American crows.

Ravens can be a threat to greater sage grouse, an imperiled species. The proliferation of ravens that take advantage of human settlement to nest, roost and feed unnaturally can lead to large populations that raid grouse nests.

Coyotes were the second-most-targeted species in Wyoming. Of the 4,503 killed last year, most — 3,221 — met their fate when shot from a fixed-wing aircraft. Another 1,142 were gunned down from helicopters and the rest killed by shooting from the ground, snaring, trapping or calling.

In a separate 2009 review, the federal government found the aerial program beneficial. “…[P]rogram economists evaluated [Wildlife Services’] aerial operations in Wyoming to remove coyotes and protect livestock and wildlife … [and] found that the benefits outweighed the costs by a ratio of 21 to 1,” the review said.

The 2017 annual report of animals killed lists 52 wolves. Twenty-one were shot from fixed-wing aircraft, 14 from helicopters and 15 from the ground. Trappers killed two caught in leg-hold devices. No wolves were killed unintentionally in 2017, the report states.

Yet a third federal review illustrates the impact wildlife have on one aspect of agriculture — sheep raising. Coyotes have the biggest impact on shepherds’ flocks, accounting for 70 percent of all losses to predators inflicting $2.28 million in damages. That figure comes from a review of last year’s numbers compiled by the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service Wyoming Office.

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“Losses due to predators amounted to 2.9 percent of the 2017 sheep and lamb supply and 52 percent of all sheep and lamb deaths,” the report stated. The losses by coyotes amounted to $2.9 million, according to a February news release.

Predators killed 17,800 sheep and lambs, an increase of 1,300 from 2016, according to the review. “Predators caused an estimated $3.26 million in losses in 2017, up 11 percent from the previous year,” it stated.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He is a veteran Wyoming reporter and editor with more than 35 years experience in Wyoming. Contact him at angus@wyofile.com or (307)...

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  1. Once again all ranchers are put into the same category as the mega rancher which is only 12% of those who ranch. The killings are on the Public allotments leased from federal or state land (aka public land). Already, these ranchers have zeroed out the greatest sustainable most unique wild horse herds in the world at the same time as placing 100’s of thousands of sheep and cattle to roam with very little human presence. Most smaller ranchers ride their territory and with just little effort can discourage predator involvement.
    The money in the wildlife services contracting has increased from one million in 2003 to 100 million today. The subsidy the ranchers gets for lost livestock also has increased. As far as a killing spree, that does not happen. These absentee owners getting “free range” and subsidies should be require to sell their product as a reduced cost commodity to the US population, instead the word free range increases what we find in the market.
    As the ranches change over to just a few corporations the need for rules apply. As a rural person the idea of more regulations does not sit well, but, that was when the majority of those on the range were people of character, now I am for regulating all operations with public allotments. One is they have to hire cowboys, they cannot overgraze, they cannot insist on wildlife to be removed and they have to prove other means were applied to scare off predators or to work with the wildlife. BLM needs to work for the land and the people, not the corporations.

    1. Agreed. Mega Ranchers – Corporate owners have little regard for the natural resources other than their own profit margin and have the lobbying power to increase their subsidies in every way possible from cheap grazing to using State and Federal wildlife resources to ‘manage’ and protect their herd. I’m not against the use of the land, however, they should be charged not given money and resources to enrich corporate entities and persons who have never set foot, and never intend to visit the land from which they profit from.

  2. In response to this comments:
    The burden of proof is on the agriculture industry to demonstrate they can operate in a way that is compatible with our native wildlife. Keep our tax dollars out of it.

    There has got to be a better way. Especially the coyotes which Are indigenous to the area. Imho you shouldn’t have a ranch or farm and not be prepared to deal with nature, including wildlife. Don’t want to deal with coyotes taking a chicken or two or wolves, only sick or old do this, taking a calf? DON’T HAVE A FARM OR RANCH. Stay in the city! City:

    I wonder if people living in the communities have any idea how much work ranchers have done in order to protect wildlife and the environment where those animals live. Predators are a problem for sensitive species as much as for ranchers. Nature lovers include ranchers and they understand a lot issues facing multiple species, not only their domestic livestock. Coyotes are not just a problem for sheep ranchers but imagine having the equivalent of 5-6 of your monthly pay checks shredded and covered in blood.
    Without intending to sound nasty, I wonder if people know the costs of living as a rancher and trying to make a living. The margins are slim. The comments imply there are choices to make a living in a city for all people. I also wonder where urban livers think their food will come from.
    I will concede there is something horrible about the idea of your pet killed by the M-44s, but I would ask people to think about coming upon a herd of 100-150 animals torn apart and only partially eaten after one night’s killing spree. That is not an exaggeration. It is a reality.

  3. Wildlife (Dis)Services should be forbidden by law from killing any native wildlife, or they should be shut down entirely.

    The burden of proof is on the agriculture industry to demonstrate they can operate in a way that is compatible with our native wildlife. Keep our tax dollars out of it.

  4. Circling in on M-44’s and their sodium cyanate only tells a partial story . Wildlife (Dis) Services uses a whole pantry of poisons , to wit from their own website : USDA’s Wildlife Services include: Alpha Chloralose, Aluminum Phosphide, Aminopyridine, Avitrol, 4-AP, Bone Tar Oil,Brodifacoum, Cholecalciferol (Quintox), DRC-1339, Fenthion , Glyphosate ( Roundup) , Polybutene , Sodium Cyanide ( M44) , Sodium Fluoroacetate – the notorious Compound 1080 , Strychnine , and Zinc Phosphide
    Wildlife ( Dis)Services kills 80,000 coyotes annually nationwide . A 2006 report by the USDA’s Inspector general found Wildlife (Dis) Services use of poisons was inconsistent , poorly safeguarded, and cavalier or careless. It has long been known that poisoning has severe collateral damages issues. The gross cost to the taxp[ayers for the eradication of each coyote can be as high as $ 2,000 per canine taken, computer by diving the total cost outlay of coyote eradication by number of canines taken. Those helicopter hours and Cessnas aren’t cheap. It can be as high as $ 7,000 per Grey Wolf, by the way.
    That Great Environmentalist of our times, President Richard Nixon signed Executive Order 11643, which banned the use of poisons by federal agents and on federal lands the year BEFORE the Endangered Species Act was siogned into law by him . The Environmental Protection Agency canceled all registrations for Compound 1080, thallium, sodium cyanide, and strychnine. After Nixon was disgraced and left office, President Gerald Ford caved and rescinced most of the poison ban order ( sans the wicked thalliums ) among other Nixon era reversals not unlike what Trump is doing to Obama regulations and orders, e xcept Ford was countermanding his former GOP boss. Industry lobbyists were successful in manipulating Ford to do this. Sound familiar ?

    The methods and madness that is Wildlife (Dis) Services is a national scandal of epic scale, but the rogue agency is well protected by its stakeholders, including but not limited to the Stockgrowers. It’s apprent to anyone who digs beneath the front sheet of parchment that Wildlife (Dis) Services is egregiously cooking the books on its activities, as is its parent agency APHIS. Ag Statististics are to be treated with great skepticism. I’ve tried to FOIA the Wyoming office of Wildlife (Dis)Services Casper headquarters in the past to get figures and dollars, and those FOIA’s were illegally ignored. Theya re too lazy to redact….they just ignore the request altogether, especially when asked about wolves. It wasn’t too hard to determine that back when Wolves were almost delisted the first time in Wyoming, Wildlife (Dis)Services agents spent north of $ 100,000 and six straight weeks trying to eradicate two uncollared Grey Wolves that roamed from the northern Big Horn Mountains south to the area west of Casper in the flatlands, without success. They spent $ 50,000 per wolf in their zeal and got nuthin’

    You get the point. I’ll close this distribe by adding a tried and true bit of Wyoming folklore that adds a functional perspective : “Every time you kill a Coyote , two will take it’s place…”

  5. 21 to 1 cost benefit ratio!! Note: the study was done by Wildlife Services’s OWN ECONOMISTS! Garbage study. Should give the agency an accurate name: Killing Wildlife.

  6. I so get tired of all the killing. There has got to be a better way. Especially the coyotes which Are indigenous to the area. Imho you shouldn’t have a ranch or farm and not be prepared to deal with nature, including wildlife. Don’t want to deal with coyotes taking a chicken or two or wolves, only sick or old do this, taking a calf? DON’T HAVE A FARM OR RANCH. Stay in the city!

  7. We lost a very valuable cattle dog to an M-44. I do not believe the number of coyotes killed by this devise justifies its use. Ban the M-44.

  8. I find it appalling that these cyanide bombs are still allowed on public land to kill the public’s wildlife and I get to pay for it as a taxpayer. Much better to use dogs, signal fires, etc to protect livestock or target the offending individual predator and shoot it. Far more humane.