Legal petition urges Biden administration to ban toxic agricultural pesticides in national wildlife refuges

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WASHINGTON—The Center for Biological Diversity and the Center for Food Safety today filed a legal petition calling on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to end the use of hazardous agricultural pesticides in national wildlife refuges.

Home to more than 280 species of protected plants and animals, the National Wildlife Refuge System is the largest and most diverse collection of land in the world set aside specifically for the preservation of fish and wildlife. Yet the Service allows private operators to grow cash crops that result in the annual use of hundreds of thousands of pounds of hazardous pesticides on refuge lands.

In 2018 – the most recent year for which full data is available – more than 350,000 pounds of agricultural pesticides were sprayed on 363,000 acres of commercial agricultural crops in the refuges. These figures represent a 34% increase over the area sprayed in 2016, according to an analysis of pesticide use in shelters.

“We call on the Biden administration to help stop extinctions by taking the common sense step of banning the unnecessary use of deadly pesticides on setback lands to protect our most vulnerable plants and animals,” said Hannah Connor. , an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It is time for the Fish and Wildlife Service to prioritize the needs of fish and wildlife over the wishes of private commercial interests who profit from the poisoning of our public lands.”

Today’s petition calls on the Service to take immediate action to end the use of agricultural pesticides on refuges, including glyphosate, 2,4-D, dicamba and paraquat, all of which have shown to harm wildlife.

The petition also calls for the Service to reverse a Trump administration decision allowing the use of bee- and bird-killing neonicotinoids and genetically engineered crops in national wildlife refuges. Because GM crops are engineered to withstand what would normally be a lethal dose of pesticides, their adoption promotes a dramatic increase in pesticide use.

The Obama administration banned such uses in 2014 following a 10-year campaign that included multiple lawsuits by the Center for Food Safety and other public interest groups. These lawsuits have successfully challenged the cultivation of GM crops in national wildlife refuges.

“Courts have repeatedly found that agricultural practices such as the cultivation of genetically modified crops designed to be sprayed with more toxic pesticides have no place in wildlife refuges, our country’s designated sanctuaries for wildlife species. ‘susceptible birds and insects,’ said Sylvia Wu, senior counsel at the Center for Food Safety. “It’s time for the Biden administration to reinstate the ban on these toxic practices, and go even further by eliminating all use of agricultural pesticides on shelters.”

More than a billion pounds of pesticides are used each year in the United States, harming wildlife and protected plants that depend on the fields, forests and waterways where the poisons are often used or end up. Pesticides are even frequently used in areas the Service has legally designated as critical critical habitat to help species recover and avoid extinction.

National Wildlife Refuges are also often the closest federal public lands to cities, making them important places where people can recreate and connect with nature. Of the 567 National Wildlife Refuges, 101 urban National Wildlife Refuges are within 25 miles of cities with populations over 250,000, meaning they can serve the 80% of Americans who live in and around those areas. metropolitan.

“For wildlife at risk and the people who visit these wild spaces to immerse themselves in nature, the well-documented harms of these agricultural pesticides far outweigh the benefits,” Connor said.

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