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Environment | Flora and Fauna

New Rule: No Bee-Harming Pesticides, GMO Crops On U.S. Wildlife Refuges


At Finley Wildlife Refuge, farmers who work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to grow forage crops for waterfowl are also allowed to grow other crops.

At Finley Wildlife Refuge, farmers who work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to grow forage crops for waterfowl are also allowed to grow other crops.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Last month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it was phasing out a class of bee-harming pesticides on wildlife refuges in the Pacific region.

By 2016, neonicotinoid pesticides won’t be allowed on refuges in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Hawaii and other Pacific islands (with some possible exceptions).

Last week, the Center for Food Safety shared a memo announcing a similar rule for wildlife refuges nationwide. I checked with the Fish and Wildlife Service; it’s true. And there’s an additional element of the national rule.

The agency will also be banning the use of genetically modified crops for feeding wildlife because, it says, they’re no longer necessary. Modified crops were allowed on refuges if they were determined to be “essential to accomplishing refuge purposes.”

“Refuges throughout the country successfully meet wildlife management objective without the use of genetically modified crops,” the new rule says. “We have demonstrated our ability to successfully accomplish refuge purposes over the past two years without genetically modified crops, therefore, it is no longer possible to say that their use is essential to meet wildlife management objectives.”

What’s most interesting about these rules to me is that farmers are growing crops on wildlife refuges in the first place. I had no idea.

They are contracted to grow forage crops for waterfowl in the Northwest, according to Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Miel Corbett. And in exchange for growing those crops in the fall and winter, the agency allows farmers to grow other crops on the refuges the rest of the year.

This is happening on 8,710 acres of wildlife refuges in the Northwest. Those other crops include corn, wheat, barley, millet, oats, sorghum, soybeans, green beas and peas – all of which can have seeds coated with neonicotinoid pesticides. Some of those crops can be genetically engineered, as well.

So, that’s why the issue of pesticide-coated seeds and genetically modified crops are coming into play on wildlife refuges. It’s largely because we’re growing food for the birds!

— Cassandra Profita