Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, August 4, 2018

Contact: Hannah Connor, (202) 681-1676,

Trump Administration to Abruptly End Ban on Bee-killing Pesticides on National Wildlife Refuges

Also Reverses Ban on Genetically Modified Crops in Refuges

WASHINGTON— The Trump administration’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced it plans to reverse a 2014 national wildlife refuge system ban on the use of bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides and genetically modified crops that trigger greater pesticide use.

The announcement late this week comes a day after the California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation released a major new analysis finding that four widely used “neonic” pesticides can cause much broader harm than previously thought to pollinators commonly found on many vegetables, fruits and grains, including crops like corn and sorghum that are frequently grown in wildlife refuges.

“Agricultural pesticides, especially bee-killing neonics, have no place on our national wildlife refuges,” said Hannah Connor, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, who this year authored a report documenting the annual use of nearly half a million pounds highly toxic pesticides on America’s wildlife refuges. “This huge backward step will harm bees and other pollinators already in steep decline simply to appease pesticide-makers and promote mono-culture farming techniques that trigger increased pesticide use. It’s senseless and shameful.”

In 2014 the National Wildlife Refuge system announced it would ban use of neonics and genetically modified crops that cause increased pesticide use on national wildlife refuges. The ban was an effort to ensure that management of the refuges that were created to provide natural habitats for wildlife “restores or mimics natural ecosystem processes…”

Spurred by the growing body of scientific research showing the broad harm neonicotinoids pose to bees and other pollinators, earlier this year the European Union banned neonics for outdoor uses in agriculture. Europe’s decision came after Canada’s pesticide regulatory agency recommended banning imidacloprid, the most widely used neonicotinoid, based on demonstrated harms to aquatic ecosystems.

One of the most important findings of the new California neonic analysis is the discovery of the high risk to bees posed by use of two neonicotinoids, thiamethoxam and clothianidin, on cereal grains like corn, wheat, rice and sorghum.

“Wildlife refuges are places where we should be protecting wildlife, not promoting use of highly toxic poisons on row crops,” said Connor. “All the strongest scientific evidence leaves no doubt we should move aggressively toward banning all outdoor use of these harmful neonics, yet the Trump administration is aggressively expanding their use.”

The Trump administration’s decision to reverse course and allow use of genetically modified seeds on wildlife refuges will also spur greater use of highly toxic pesticides on these lands. Most genetically altered crops are designed for the specific purpose of making them resistant to herbicides like glyphosate and dicamba, which in turn allows farmers to increase their use of these pesticides in the summer months when many animals are out foraging.

It’s been well-documented that use of the pesticide glyphosate on crops genetically altered to resist it has played a significant role in the 80 percent decline of monarch butterflies over the past two decades because it kills milkweed, the only food of the monarch caterpillar.

But because over-use of glyphosate -- the active ingredient in Roundup -- has fueled the growth of glyphosate-resistant superweeds across millions of U.S. acres, Monsanto developed seeds that are now resistant to both glyphosate and dicamba, a highly toxic and drift-prone pesticide that, as described in a recent Center analysis, may be even more harmful to monarchs than glyphosate.

One of the biggest problems with dicamba is that it’s notorious for drifting beyond the fields where it’s sprayed. In 2017 alone, dicamba sprayed on genetically engineered crops spurred thousands of reports of drift damage to more than 3.6 million acres of nearby crops and untold stretches of forests and natural areas. Early estimates from 2018 indicate that 1.1 million acres have been similarly damaged so far this year.

The Trump administration’s re-approval of genetically altered seeds on wildlife refuges will likely increase the use of both glyphosate and dicamba on many refuges.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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