The U.S. government is creating a safe place for bees on national wildlife refuges by phasing out the use of genetically modified crops and an agricultural pesticide implicated in the mass die-off of pollinators.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Refuge System
manages 150 million acres across the country. By January 2016, the
agency will ban the use of neonicotinoids, widely used nerve poisons
that a growing number of scientific studies
have shown are harmful to bees, birds, mammals, and fish.
Neonicotinoids, also called neonics, can be sprayed on crops, but most
often the seeds are coated with the pesticide so that the poison spreads
throughout every part of the plant as it grows, including the pollen
and nectar that pollinators like bees and butterflies eat.
“We have determined that prophylactic use, such as a seed treatment,
of the neonicotinoid pesticides that can distribute systemically in a
plant and can affect a broad spectrum of non-target species is not
consistent with Service policy,” James Kurth, chief of the National
Wildlife Refuge System, wrote in a July 17 memo.
The move follows a regional wildlife chief’s decision on July 9 to ban neonics in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Hawaii, and the Pacific Islands by 2016.
The nationwide ban, however, goes further as it also prohibits the
use of genetically modified seeds to grow crops to feed wildlife.
A FWS spokesperson declined to comment on why the agency was banning genetically modified organisms in wildlife refuges.
But in his memo, Kurth cited existing agency policy. “We do not use
genetically modified organisms in refuge management unless we determine
their use is essential to accomplishing refuge purpose(s),” he wrote.
“We have demonstrated our ability to successfully accomplish refuge
purposes over the past two years without using genetically modified
crops, therefore it is no longer to say their use is essential to meet
wildlife management objectives.”
GMOs have not been linked directly to the bee die-off. But the
dominance of GMO crops has led to the widespread use of pesticides like
neonicotinoids and industrial farming practices that biologists believe
are harming other pollinators, such as the monarch butterfly.
Neonicotinoids account for 40 percent of the global pesticide market
and are used to treat most corn and soybean crops in the U.S.
“We are gratified that the Fish and Wildlife Service has finally
concluded that industrial agriculture, with GE crops and powerful
pesticides, is both bad for wildlife and inappropriate on refuge lands,”
Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility, said in a statement.