Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, March 23, 2017

Contact: Stephanie Parent, (971) 717-6404,

Lawsuit Launched to Protect Birds, Other Wildlife From Harmful Agricultural Pesticides Used on National Wildlife Refuges

PORTLAND, Ore.— The Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today to end use of agricultural pesticides known to harm people and wildlife on the Tule Lake and Lower Klamath national wildlife refuges. In adopting a comprehensive conservation plan to guide management of the refuges over the next 15 years, the Service failed to consider alternatives that would reduce or eliminate use of toxic pesticides. As a result the agency prioritized commercial agricultural interests over wildlife and birds, including the secretive yellow rail and majestic tundra swan that rely on the habitat in the refuges.

“On wildlife refuges, wildlife must come first, but the Service has refused to take reasonable steps to reduce pesticide use on refuge land leased to grow crops,” said Stephanie Parent, a senior attorney at the Center. “In refusing to consider common-sense measures like prohibiting use of insecticides highly toxic to bees, butterflies, fish and birds, the agency left us no choice but to sue to protect these creatures.”

The Service must ensure that economic uses of the wildlife refuges are compatible with the primary purposes of preserves and breeding grounds for birds, waterfowl management and wildlife conservation. Yet the Service's conservation plan continues to allow the lease of up to 22,000 acres of land to produce crops like potatoes, onions and grains, which are drenched with insecticides, fungicides and herbicides.

“It's an outrage that the Service would allow our wildlife refuges to be doused with toxic pesticides by commercial agricultural interests,” said Parent. “Some farmers on these refuges successfully grow their crops organically, demonstrating there‘s no need to allow toxic pesticide use in these special places.”

The Service reached its decision without disclosing or evaluating critical information about the harmful effects of pesticide use in the environmental impact statement for the plan. Instead the Service relied on a pesticide-use proposal process that is not open to the public. Pesticides can be very highly toxic, mobile and persistent in the environment, and the Service is obligated to disclose and carefully consider the effects of those approved for use on the refuges before adopting a comprehensive conservation plan.

The Center's lawsuit asserts that the Service has violated the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. The organization is asking the court to set aside the plan and to require the Service to fully disclose and consider the harmful effects of the pesticides and carefully assess whether use of pesticides for commercial crops is compatible with the wildlife purposes of the refuges. 

Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge

Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge. Photo courtesy USFWS. This image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.2 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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