WASHINGTON— Conservation groups today filed a notice of intent to sue the Trump administration for suddenly reversing a 2014 decision prohibiting bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides and genetically modified, pesticide-resistant crops on national wildlife refuges.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s acting director unilaterally withdrew the 2014 agency decision last week without first assessing threats to protected plants and animals on or around the wildlife refuges, as required by the Endangered Species Act.
The policy reversal means that national wildlife refuges are now immediately authorized to allow the use of neonicotinoid pesticides despite their well-documented harm to endangered wildlife like the red knot, American burying beetle, Rio Grande silvery minnow and many other imperiled animals and plants.
“It’s shameful that the Trump administration is promoting greater use of highly toxic agricultural pesticides on America’s wildlife refuges,” said Hannah Connor, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These special places were set aside to shelter America’s wildlife, not protect row-crop agriculture that relies on dangerous chemicals known to harm animals.”
Today’s notice from the Center for Biological Diversity and Center for Food Safety highlights that the Service reversed its 2014 decision without first studying the risks of increased pesticide use to the imperiled species that rely on national wildlife refuges for food, habitat and protection.
“The Trump administration’s opening of national wildlife refuge lands to GMOs and neonicotinoids is outrageous and unlawful,” said George Kimbrell, Center for Food Safety legal director. “These are crucial wildlife sanctuaries, not to be sold to pad the bottom line of pesticide companies.”
The 2014 decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to prohibit genetically modified crops and neonicotinoid pesticides on wildlife refuges was the result of a 10-year Center for Food Safety-led campaign, including multiple lawsuits successfully challenging the planting of genetically modified crops at refuges around the country from 2005 to 2014.
In 2012 a federal court formally halted the planting of the genetically altered crops on all national wildlife refuges in the southeastern United States and ordered steps to mitigate environmental damage from their previous illegal cultivation. And in 2011 Center for Food Safety secured a legal settlement ending planting of genetically modified crops on refuges throughout the 12-state northeast region.
A growing body of research has found that neonicotinoid pesticides are highly toxic to pollinators and one of the leading causes of the current bee population collapse. The Trump administration’s decision to allow use of genetically modified seeds on wildlife refuges will spur greater use of highly toxic pesticides, a practice that scientists have said will result in increased harm to not only pollinators, but birds, aquatic animals and other wildlife.
Most genetically altered crops are designed to be resistant to herbicides like glyphosate and dicamba, which allows farmers to increase use of these pesticides in the summer months when many animals are out foraging. For example, glyphosate use on genetically altered crops has significantly contributed to the monarch butterflies’ 80 percent decline over the past two decades because the pesticide kills milkweed, the monarch caterpillar’s only food.
The Endangered Species Act requires the Service to consult with federal wildlife biologists on the harm of its actions to threatened and endangered species. Today’s 60-day notice of intent to sue is required before a lawsuit can be filed to compel the federal government to comply with the Act.