Farming risks are incompatible with refuge purposes
Neither genetically modified (GM) crops nor powerful neonicotinoid insecticides have a place in any National Wildlife Refuge, according to a letter from 19 conservation organizations to the US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS). The coalition seeks to reinstitute a FWS ban on these farming practices that the Trump administration rescinded in 2018.
The National Wildlife Refuge System consists of 568 refuges, located in every state to serve as islands of undisturbed habitat for both flora and fauna, especially those listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Prior lawsuits by members of the coalition had led the FWS to ban planting of GM crops; the agency’s own analysis led it in 2014 to also ban the use of neonicotinoid (“neonic”) insecticides on refuges. In today’s request, the groups cite myriad reasons to keep those practices out of the refuges, including:
* Neonics distribute systemically in plants, potentially harming a broad spectrum of non-target species, a result both inconsistent with FWS policy on Biological Integrity, Diversity, and Environmental Health and the Wildlife Refuge Act itself
* Broadcast spraying of glyphosate on GM glyphosate-resistant crop fields poses severe harm to imperilled monarch butterflies, beneficial pollinators, and other wildlife that survive on native vegetation in and around the fields
* GM crops and neonics also threaten a range of native birds, ranging from pheasants and grouse to whooping cranes, as well as other wildlife
Many refuges allow local farmers to cultivate uplands under cooperative agreements which usually require that the farmer leave one-quarter of the crop for wildlife forage. However, both the law and FWS policy require that such economic activities must contribute to the achievement of the National Wildlife Refuge purposes – a standard that neither GM crops nor neonics meet.
Notably, during the nearly three years since the Trump administration lifted the ban, there has been no significant reintroduction of GM crops or neonics onto refuges. The prospect of future litigation appears to have deterred their resumption. Thus, reinstating the ban that was put into place during the Obama administration would cause little or no disruption for farmers who farm on various refuges.
Signing groups on the letter include the American Bird Conservancy, Beyond Pesticides, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Environment America, Friends of the Earth, Hawaiʻi Alliance for Progressive Action, LEAD for Pollinators, Inc., Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, Maryland Pesticide Education Network, National Latino Farmers & Ranchers Trade Association, Northeast Organic Farming Association, Mass. Chapter, Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides, People and Pollinators Action Network, Pollinator Stewardship Council, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), Sierra Club, Soda Mountain Wilderness Council, and the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.