The Environmental Protection Agency took a first step Monday to ban two poisons used to protect livestock against wild animals.
The agency called for public comment on a proposal to end the use of sodium cyanide and sodium fluoroacetate, poisons that are placed on or near livestock to kill any wild animal that attacks it.
The poisons are distributed by the Wildlife Services agency, an arm of the Agriculture Department, and last year were reported to have killed an estimated 14,000 wild animals including coyotes, foxes and dogs.
Sodium fluoroacetate, commonly known as Compound 1080, is used in "livestock protection collars" that are strapped onto sheep or goats. The sodium cyanide is used in an ejector that has a bait that attracts the predator but not the livestock. It releases poison into the wild animal's mouth.
The EPA's request for public comment came in response to a petition by a coalition of conservation groups and public health organizations, which demand that the poisons no longer be used.
The groups cite the findings of government audits that have uncovered sloppy inventory controls on the devices and claims that the poisons are getting into water supplies and have killed pets and other animals.
"Wildlife Services' own records show that livestock protection collars routinely go missing and that their poison-containing pouches easily get punctured on sharp objects like brush, rocks or barbed wire, creating an uncontrolled biohazard," said a statement issued Monday by opponents of the poisons' use.
The petition seeking the ban was filed by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and Sinapu, a wildfire conservation advocacy group based in Boulder, Colo.
"These toxicants are outmoded, dangerous and inhumane means of wildfire management," said Sinapu's Wendy Keefover-Ring. "The threats to people, pets and wildlife will remain until these poisons are outlawed."
Supporters of the poisoning devices argue that they are a relatively humane way to kill predatory animals and, because the poison is contained in specific delivery device, reduce the risk to non-target animals.
Compound 1080, a colorless, odorless, tasteless, water-soluble poison, already is banned in California and Oregon, and had been previously prohibited by the EPA, but then reinstated for use.