An administrative law judge has recommended that the Environmental Protection Agency lift its controversial 10-year-old ban on a potent poison once used widely by western ranchers to kill coyotes.

However, Judge Spencer T. Nissen said EPA should allow sodium fluoroacetate, commonly called Compound 1080, to be distributed by only two methods, and one of the methods should be limited to specially trained government employes to "reduce the possibility of misuse."

Nissen's decision, which comes after six months of often emotional hearings, was seen as a partial victory by attorneys for western ranchers, who originally challenged the ban, and by wildlife enthusiasts, who have opposed moves to permit the use of the poison again. This is the first time the agency has considered a petition to lift an agency ban.

"Basically we are pleased with the judge's decision," said Sam Kazman, an attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation, which represented the states of Texas, Wyoming, South Dakota and Montana in their petition to reinstate the use of Compound 1080. "The decision to allow 1080 use, even though it is limited, is a victory not only for livestock men but society in general."

Allen E. Smith, president of Defenders of Wildlife, one of three wildlife groups opposing the poison, said the decision "actually has a lot of good things in it."

"The judge has clearly called out that there are problems with 1080 in the field and he pointed out that it's an extremely lethal poison with no known antidote," Smith said. But he "objected strongly" to Nissen's decision to lift the ban.

Nissen said the EPA should allow ranchers to use 1080 in toxic collars: rubber collars filled with the poison and attached to sheeps' necks. The collars release the poison when a predator bites through them into its prey.

Nissen said they were an effective and safe way to kill sheep-killing coyotes without endangering other coyotes--a major concern of wildlife groups. He also said the small amounts of poison in the collars did not pose a significant health problem to humans or other animals.

Nissen said EPA should allow government employes to use single lethal dose baits, which are small amounts of meat treated with 1080 and scattered in areas known to be frequented by coyotes. This method could be abused easily by ranchers, and is more dangerous than the toxic collar because the poison must be handled, Nissen said, so it should only be used by government employes.

Nissen also rejected ranchers' requests to be allowed again to use the large bait station method of distributing the poison, which involves injecting the carcass of a horse or sheep with large amounts of 1080 and leaving it in coyote areas.

The EPA banned 1080 in 1972 after wildlife groups demonstrated that this method was frequently abused by ranchers and caused the deaths of animals other than coyotes, which ate either the bait or coyotes that had been killed by it.

EPA Administrator Anne M. Gorsuch has 30 days to decide whether to accept Nissen's recommendations. Either side can appeal her ruling in federal court.