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Daily News Blog

02
Aug

U.S. Senators Urge Fish and Wildlife Service to Phase Out Pesticide Use in America’s Wildlife Refuges

(Beyond Pesticides, August 2, 2022) Members of the United States Senate are calling on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to phase out the use of toxic pesticides in National Wildlife Refuges in order to protect declining wildlife species and the country’s unique natural resources. Led by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), the senators sent a letter to FWS Director Martha Williams urging FWS to “expeditiously begin a rulemaking process to phase out the use of agricultural pesticides on National Wildlife Refuges.” The move comes at a time when native wildlife and the ecosystems humans rely upon are under greater threats than ever before from climate change, habitat destruction, and the indiscriminate use of toxic pesticides.

“The Refuge System was established to provide sanctuary for listed threatened and endangered species, migratory birds, and other wildlife,” wrote the senators in a letter to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Director Martha Williams. “The Refuges’ migratory sanctuary and breeding grounds are especially critical for North American birds, as they have faced precipitous population declines; there are 3 billion fewer breeding birds in North America than there were in 1970. Unfortunately these birds and other threatened species are being put at risk by pesticide use in the Refuges that were designed to protect them.” 

In 2012, Beyond Pesticides and other environmental groups, led by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and Center for Food Safety, won a court battle to halt genetically engineered (GE) crops and related herbicide-tolerant herbicides on wildlife refuges in the southeast. This move was followed a year later by the FWS Pacific Region restricting the use of neonicotinoids, which are often applied to the seeds of GE crops, in their refuge areas.

Under the Obama Administration in 2014, the former Chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System officially phased out the use of genetically engineered crops and neonicotinoids insecticides on all US wildlife refuges. The decision, as outlined in a memorandum by former Chief James Kurth, was based on the fact that neonicotinoid use, and the harms associated with it, “is not consistent with Service policy…[]based on a precautionary approach to our wildlife management practices and not on agricultural practices.”

Despite these important restrictions, other toxic agricultural pesticides registered by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency continued to be sprayed in these sensitive and protected sites. A report by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) found that in 2016 alone over 270,000 acres were sprayed with more than 490,000 pounds of hazardous pesticides.  

These concerning statistics did nothing to phase the new, industry-friendly Trump administration. In 2018, the Fish and Wildlife Service released a memorandum reversing the 2014 restrictions on neonicotinoid pesticides, allowing use on a “case-by-case basis.”

This industry-friendly reversal unnecessarily exposes a broad range of threatened and endangered wildlife to chemicals that do not belong anywhere near protected natural areas. As the Senators write, these chemicals “leach into the surrounding groundwater and soil and are picked up by native flowering plants and pollinators.” Not only does this threaten non-target organisms, the Senators note, but also the 53 million annual human visitors to U.S. Wildlife Refuges.

In 2019, CBD and CFS sued FWS and the Interior Department. “It’s frankly astounding that anyone would promote spraying dangerous pesticides on wildlife refuges but if anyone would, it’s the pesticide pushers in the Trump administration,” said CBD senior attorney, Hannah Connor, at the time. “This is nothing but a shameless giveaway to the pesticide industry with no regard for our nation’s most vulnerable wildlife.” A year later, a federal judge rejected the lawsuit, allowing rampant contamination of some of the nation’s otherwise most pristine sites.

An update to CBD’s report was released, finding pesticide use expand 34% from 2016, to more than 363,000 acres of wild lands. Use of the most dangerous pesticides increased by more than 70% within this time frame.

To remedy the situation, the Senators are calling for the Refuge System to go further than before, and work to eliminate all toxic pesticide use in favor of the least-toxic, yet still effective minimum risk products on the market compatible with organic land care. The letter to FWS also asks for provisions that permit pesticide use on non-native species only for a limited basis and if compatible with a Refuge’s Comprehensive Conservation Plan. “As for a short-term fix,” the Senators say, “We ask that the 2014 memorandum issued by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service Chief James Kurth be reinstated, phasing out neonicotinoids.”

In addition to Senator Booker, Senators Ed Markey (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) signed on to the letter.

Help support the efforts of these Senate champions by joining calls to urge FWS to reinstate Refuge System protections. Further support Senator Booker’s steadfast efforts to protect American children and the wider environment from toxic pesticides by urging your own Senators to join in cosponsoring the Protect America’s Children from Toxic Pesticides Act.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) press release, Letter to FWS Director

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6 Responses to “U.S. Senators Urge Fish and Wildlife Service to Phase Out Pesticide Use in America’s Wildlife Refuges”

  1. 1
    Julia Young Says:

    The use of pesticides and herbicides is dangerous. Wildlife and people are both exposed to chemicals unknowingly of the risk involved. It is particularly important that wildlife preserves be protected for the future. More research is needed and even critical. Stop rubber stamping approval without knowing the future long term impact on nature and human beings .

  2. 2
    ROBERTA CLAYPOOL Says:

    CUT IT OUT – HORRIBLE – UNNECESSARY

  3. 3
    Carolyn Nieland Says:

    Please ban toxic pesticides and herbicides from America’s Wildlife Refuges!!!

  4. 4
    Thomas L. Nieland Says:

    Please ban toxic pesticides and herbcides from USA Wildlife Refuges!!!!

  5. 5
    priscilla martinez Says:

    Wildlife, and plant life, are God’s creations, we need to take better care of them, and their environment.

  6. 6
    Sheila Tran Says:

    Please stop using pesticides in wildlife refuges.

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