Trump administration reverses rule that banned pesticide use in wildlife refuges

Trump administration reverses rule that banned pesticide use in wildlife refuges
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The Interior Department announced plans Friday to reverse a rule that banned the use of pesticides in national wildlife refuges.

The decision, announced in an internal memo posted online, reverses an Obama-era ban on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides as well as genetically engineered crops within refuges where there is farming.

The Obama administration argued that the pesticides threatened bees and butterflies, as well as other pollinators, and wildlife such as birds.

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The announcement from Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) deputy director Greg Sheehan said the rollback is to benefit land specifically purchased to become refuges to help waterfowl and migratory bird species. Some of the land has historically been used to maintain crops to support the birds.

Sheehan said the regulation made it hard for refugees to meet their targets.

"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," Sheehan wrote. "Realizing that farming practices will continue into the foreseeable future within the NWRS ... we must ensure that we are appropriately making use of farm practice innovations as we actively manage farm areas.

Those innovations, Sheehan writes, include incorporating genetically modified seeds into the farming practices.

"A blanket denial of Genetically Modified Organisms does not provide on-the-ground latitude for refuge managers to work adaptively and make field level decisions about the best manner to fulfill the purposes of the refuge," Sheehan wrote.

The National Wildlife Refuge System will now determine whether to use genetically modified seeds on a "case by case basis," according to the memo.

Many environmental groups are wary of the use of GMOs, arguing that they could provide adverse scientific impacts to species and are disruptive to ecosystems due to their modified nature.

Animal conservation groups Ducks Unlimited and the National Wild Turkey Federation, however, hailed the decision.

"We are pleased the USFWS reversed this decision and restored this essential tool for waterfowl and wildlife management to our National Wildlife Refuges," the groups wrote in a joint statement Friday.