The nation’s 562 national wildlife refuges play a critical role in protecting fish, plants, and other wildlife. They include forests, wetlands, and waterways vital to thousands of species of plants and animals, including 280 that are protected under the Endangered Species Act. However, private chemical-intensive commercial farming of crops like corn, soybeans, and sorghum has become common on refuge lands, with the increasing use of highly toxic pesticides that threaten the long-term health of sensitive habitats and the creatures who depend on them. The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) estimates that 490,000 pounds of pesticides were applied to commodity crops like corn, soybeans, and sorghum grown in national wildlife refuges in 2016, the most recent year for which data are available.
>>Tell FWS to take toxic pesticides out of wildlife refuges.
The nearly half million pounds of pesticides used on wildlife refuges in 2016 include 2,4-D, dicamba, and paraquat, all of which are toxic to fish, amphibians, crustaceans, and other animals. Also included are 116,200 pounds of glyphosate, the herbicide that has caused widespread decreases in milkweed plants, helping to trigger the 80 percent population decline of monarch butterflies over the past two decades.
In 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced a phase-out of the use of genetically engineered (GE) crops to feed wildlife and a ban on neonicotinoid insecticides from all wildlife refuges nationwide by January 2016. CBD found that although 498 pounds of neonicotinoid pesticides were applied in 2016 to potato crops on the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex, all neonicotinoid use has now been discontinued in the refuge system. The heavy use of glyphosate, generally used on crops that are engineered to tolerate it, suggests that the phase-out of GE crops may not have been so successful.
Refuges exist for the protection of wildlife, and activities there should not jeopardize their health. FWS should require that organic practices be used in any farming on refuges.