The Trump administration has approved the use of toxic pesticides and genetically modified organisms (GMO) on national wildlife refuges. This is a reversal of an earlier ban placed on neonicotinoid pesticides and genetically engineered crops on national wildlife refuges.

The new policy change was contained in an internal memo of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) and signed by Greg Sheehan, the Service’s Principal Deputy Director. The new policy contravenes a 2014 regulation of the agency which banned dangerous neonicotinoid insecticides and GMO plants in national wildlife refuges. The 2014 Fish and Wildlife Service ban was instituted after several parties filed lawsuits against the use of toxic pesticides and genetically modified seeds in wildlife refuges, citing environmental laws.

Re-instating Pesticides and Engineered Seeds 

According to the new memo, the use of neonicotinoids and GMO seeds will be reviewed by refuge managers on a case-by-case base in accordance with refuge policies and the National Environmental Policy Act.

The problem however with this arrangement is that it further aggravates the issues of understaffing at refuges. It also ignores several research studies which link the deaths of pollinators such as bees and butterflies among others to GMOs and neonicotinoids. Activists say the new policy is contrary to Congressional initiatives aimed at sustaining the biological diversity, integrity and environmental health of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

 “Industrial agriculture has no place on public lands dedicated to conservation of biological diversity and the protection of our most vulnerable species, including pollinators like bumble bees and monarch butterflies,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, President and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife. “The Trump administration’s approval to use toxic pesticides and genetically modified crops is an insult to our national wildlife refuges and the wildlife that rely on them.”

Neonicotinoids Poison Waters and Wildlife Species That Depend On Them for Survival

GMO plants and seeds are developed to resist herbicides and insect invasion. With the use of genetically modified crops, unwanted plants and other undesired vegetation are killed off in a more natural pattern. The benefits of engineered crops lie in the fact that it prevents the use of herbicides which negatively impact birds, fish, insects and other wildlife species.

Studies find that GMOs are not as fatal to wildlife species as neonicotinoids. Since farmers apply the chemical directly on crops or treat seeds with it, the crops absorb the chemical into their entire system. This can cause pollinators such as birds and butterflies and small animals who get close to the treated plants to suffer paralysis and death.

This does not only bring a decline in the population of pollinators, it also causes a contamination of streams and rivers which could further threaten the health of marine creatures and other wildlife species dependent on such waters.

Defenders of Wildlife published a scathing statement on the reversal of the pesticide ban and claimed the justifications for reversing the ban were not based on reality, science or professional wildlife management principles.

“The new memorandum provides no justification for allowing the consideration of this poisonous pesticide on national wildlife refuges. Its use would harm a variety of species and violate a fundamental purpose of the Refuge System to conserve biodiversity,” the statement also said.

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