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ONE-THIRD OF WILDLIFE REFUGES USE GM CROPS IN SOUTHEAST — Genetically Modified Seeds Okayed by Obama Fish & Wildlife Service Director Pick Hamilton
Washington, DC — One-third of National Wildlife Refuges in the Southeast U.S. are growing genetically modified crops with approval from the official tapped by the Obama White House to head the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, according to agency records obtained today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Planting GM crops on a wildlife refuge is illegal without full prior environmental and public review under a federal court ruling won by PEER and allied groups last year, but none of the Southeastern refuges have undertaken the required reviews.
National wildlife refuges have allowed farming for decades in order to help prepare seed beds for native habitat such as grasslands and provide food for migratory birds and other wildlife. In recent years, refuge farming programs are being converted to GM crops because that is the seed that farmers can obtain or, in some case, prefer. Today, almost all the crops being grown on refuges are genetically modified.
By law and policy, these refuges are supposed to be administered to benefit wildlife, not local farmers. In fact, Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) policy explicitly forbids “genetically modified agricultural crops in refuge management unless we determine their use is essential to accomplishing refuge purpose(s)”. By contrast to this policy, in the Southeast Region, headed by Sam Hamilton, named by the Obama administration as its intended nominee to lead the entire FWS, records show –
“What is supposed to be a last resort exception has become common practice,” stated PEER Executive Direct Jeff Ruch, who obtained copies of all GM crop approvals from the FWS under the Freedom of Information Act. “Sam Hamilton seems to embrace genetically engineered refuge management with open arms.”
Earlier this year in a lawsuit brought by PEER and other groups, a federal court ordered FWS to stop planting GM crops on its Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware. The court found that FWS had illegally entered into Cooperative Farming Agreements without doing compatibility determinations required by the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act and environmental assessments required by the National Environmental Policy Act. While the ruling was limited to one refuge, its legal rationale applies to every refuge across the country.
The records obtained by PEER indicated that refuges in Hamilton’s region had not done the legally required reviews. “The next Director of the Fish & Wildlife Service should have demonstrated both the ability and willingness to follow the very laws that the agency is supposed to administer,” Ruch added. “Sam Hamilton’s record strongly suggests business as usual will continue at the Fish & Wildlife Service.”
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility News Release (www.peer.org)
For Immediate Release: March 24, 2009
LAWSUIT ENDS GENETICALLY ENGINEERED CROPS ON WILDLIFE REFUGE — Ruling on Delaware’s Prime Hook May Affect Farming on Scores of Other Refuges
Washington, DC — A federal court has ordered the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to stop planting genetically engineered (GE) crops on its Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware. While the ruling is limited to Prime Hook, the lawsuit may serve as a model for similar litigation at more than 80 other national wildlife refuges now growing GE crops across the country.
Filed in April 2006 by the Widener Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic on behalf of Delaware Audubon Society, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the Center for Food Safety, the federal suit charged that the Fish & Wildlife Service had illegally entered into Cooperative Farming Agreements with private parties, allowing hundreds of acres to be plowed over without required environmental review and contrary to the Service’s own policy prohibiting GE crops.
“It is unfortunate that we had to file suit against the Service to get it to comply with its own policies,” commented Nicholas DiPasquale, Conservation Chair for Delaware Audubon. “It is clear that this Refuge Manager had abdicated control over farming operations at Prime Hook just as it is also clear that farming practices have been extremely destructive to the forested uplands at the refuge.”
The groups filed suit after discovering that a top Bush administration political appointee overruled the wildlife refuge manager in allowing the gene altered crops. Three months after the groups filed suit in the U.S. District Court for Delaware, the Fish & Wildlife Service loosened its policies to facilitate greater use of GM crops on all refuges.
“These farming programs chew up the habitat that is supposed to provide refuge for wildlife,” stated Grady Hocutt, a former long-time refuge manager who directs the PEER refuge program. “Genetically modified crops serve no legitimate refuge purpose and have no business being grown there.”
Farming within wildlife refuges often interferes with the protection of the wildlife and the native grasses that the national refuge system is designed to protect. Scientists also warn the use of genetically engineered crops can lead to increased pesticide use on refuges and can have additional negative effects on birds, aquatic animals, and other wildlife. In this case, Federal District Court Chief Judge Gregory Sleet concluded that “it is undisputed that farming with genetically modified crops at Prime Hook poses significant environmental risks.”
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife should not be planting genetically engineered crops on National Wildlife Refuges,” said Kevin Golden, Staff Attorney for the Center for Food Safety. “Prime Hook is the tip of the iceberg of a nation-wide problem which needs to be addressed at refuges around the country.”
The court ruling blocks future agricultural operations on Prime Hook until compatibility determinations required by the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act and environmental assessments required by the National Environmental Policy Act have been completed.