The United States Department of the Interior has reversed a 2014 ban on the use of neonicotinoids and the planting of GMO crops in over 50 national wildlife refuges where farming is allowed nationwide.
The decision was released via a memo from Fish and Wildlife Service Deputy Director Greg Sheehan earlier this month. Environmental groups have condemned the decision, noting that the wildlife in the refuges will be adversely affected by these changes.
“Industrial agriculture has no place on refuges dedicated to wildlife conservation and protection of some of the most vital and vulnerable species,” Jamie Rappaport Clark, CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, told Reuters, calling the decision “an insult to our national wildlife refuges and the wildlife that rely on them.”
The reintroduction of neonicotinoids, specifically, was condemned by Mother Nature Network, which noted that the science connecting these pesticides to widespread bee death is quite clear. Studies have proven that neonicotinoids hinder bees' ability to fly, and these and other findings led the European Union to ban the use of the three most common pesticides in this class in April.
The use of neonicotinoids in wildlife refuges will be made on a case-by-case basis, according to the memo.
Sheehan writes that these policy reversals, specifically with regards to GMO crops, are necessary to ensure that migratory waterbirds have adequate foraging opportunities.
"Some National Wildlife Refuge Lands are no longer able to provide the amount or quality of food that they once did due to changes in cooperative food practices within the Refuge system," reads the memo. "We must ensure that we are appropriately making use of farm practice innovations as we actively manage farm areas."
The decision reverses a policy written by James Kurth, then-chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System, in 2014 that stated almost the exact opposite.
"We have demonstrated our ability to successfully accomplish refuge purpose over the past two years without using genetically modified crops, therefore, it is no longer possible to say that their use is essential to meet wildlife management objectives," he wrote at the time.