When laws or regulations come into conflict, and they frequently do, government agencies are just as often able to work things out. A 1972 presidential executive order prohibited the use of poisons, such as sodium cyanide, on federal land except in emergency situations. The Environmental Protection Agency was given responsibility for enforcement.

The 1973 Endangered Species Act gave the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service the job of keeping alive threatened birds, animals and plants. The whooping crane was among the first endangered species the service set out to protect.

A recovery project for the graceful, nearly extinct water birds was started in 1975 at the Grays Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Idaho. According to the June 19 Federal Register (page 41497), the program was on its way to success -- except for one problem. Coyotes and red foxes are eating the crane eggs and young offspring.

The service tried trapping and even aerial hunting to get rid of the four-legged predators, but with little success. Then, with the whooping crane program in danger of failing, the service in 1977 asked EPA's permission to use the forbidden sodium cyanide in a last effort to control the coyotes and foxes. t

EPA approved the exemption that year and each year since. The service is allowed to employ the poison in 40 M44 devices hidden over 500 acres of the Idaho refuge. The M44 is a trap baited with a sex attractant. When bitten by a coyote, the trap fires a lethyal cyanide gas pellet directly into the animal's mouth.

The service has had only until Sept. 30 each year for its poison program and thereafter is required to remove all the M44s from the refuge.