Na­tional Wildlife Refuges Now Con­tam­i­nated with Toxic Pes­ti­cides

Trillions - - Contents -

Ac­cord­ing to a new study, the U.S. Na­tional Wildlife Refuges, orig­i­nally set aside to pro­tect liv­ing things in the wild, are be­ing flooded with hun­dreds of thou­sands of pounds of toxic pes­ti­cides each year.

The study, No Refuge, was pub­lished by the Cen­ter for Bi­o­log­i­cal Di­ver­sity in May 2018.

Amer­ica’s wildlife refuges date back to 1903, when Pres­i­dent Theodore Roo­sevelt es­tab­lished the Pel­i­can Is­land Na­tional Wildlife Refuge. That first na­tional refuge was set aside to pro­tect pel­i­cans and other birds in the area from hunt­ing.

Since that time, many refuges have echoed the in­tent of this first one and have been named with the goal of pro­vid­ing an “in­vi­o­late sanc­tu­ary for mi­gra­tory birds.”there are now 562 Na­tional Wildlife Refuges in the United States. Each was cre­ated ei­ther by pres­i­den­tial ex­ec­u­tive or­der, by an act of Congress or by a joint ini­tia­tive from both the Ex­ec­u­tive Branch and the Leg­isla­tive Branch of the United States. Though they started with birds be­ing the dom­i­nant species pro­tected, the refuges now pro­tect more than 220 species of mam­mals, 250 rep­tile and am­phib­ian species and more than 1,000 species of fish in ad­di­tion to more than 700 bird species. More than 280 of these species were added af­ter they were iden­ti­fied un­der the En­dan­gered Species Act.

The re­gions cov­ered by the refuges in­clude forests, wet­lands and wa­ter­ways that are all crit­i­cal to the life func­tion­ing of the del­i­cate ecosystems within the refuges.

Cur­rently, the wildlife refuges are reg­u­lated for the most part by the 1997 Na­tional Wildlife Refuge Sys­tem Im­prove­ment Act. It calls for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice (the fed­eral agency re­spon­si­ble for all refuges) to man­age the refuges as “a na­tional net­work of lands and wa­ters for the con­ser­va­tion, man­age­ment and, where ap­pro­pri­ate, restora­tion of the fish, wildlife and plant re­sources.” The act goes on to di­rect the ser­vice to “pro­vide for the con­ser­va­tion of fish, wildlife and plants” and to make sure the full eco­log­i­cal and bi­o­log­i­cal di­ver­sity of the refuges, along with their en­vi­ron­men­tal health, are con­stantly pre­served.

At one time, these were pris­tine re­serves set aside just for the use of the species who na­tively live there. En­croach­ment on that orig­i­nal char­ter hap­pened slowly, first by al­low­ing pri­vate farm­ing within the refuges. That pri­vate farm­ing was nar­row in its char­ter, with the goal be­ing pre­par­ing na­tive habi­tat seed beds and mak­ing sure that food sources were avail­able within the refuges to sup­port the wildlife pro­tected within their borders.

Over time, that char­ter has evolved and dis­in­te­grated. Many of the lands are now open for in­dus­trial farm­ing, some­thing that was in the­ory al­lowed with the mo­ronic idea that it would not dis­turb the na­tive lands. Heavy

pes­ti­cide use fol­lowed, and that is where the trou­bles be­gan.

Ac­cord­ing to the No Refuge study, in 2016 an es­ti­mated 490,000 pounds of pes­ti­cides were ap­plied to these in­dus­trial farm­ing ar­eas. Crops like corn, soy­beans and sorghum were farmed in large quan­ti­ties, us­ing sim­i­lar tech­niques as in com­mer­cial farms out­side the wildlife refuges.

The pes­ti­cides in­clude dan­ger­ous her­bi­cides such as dicamba, 2,4-D and glyphosate. To­gether with other pes­ti­cides and the in­creased pres­ence of com­mer­cial farms within these fed­eral pre­serves, the ecosystems there are un­der at­tack like never be­fore.

Ac­cord­ing to the study, in 2016 the five Na­tional Wildlife Refuges that re­ceived the high­est amounts of pes­ti­cides were as fol­lows: • Cen­tral Arkansas Refuge Com­plex in Arkansas, with 48,725 pounds of pes­ti­cides

• West Ten­nessee Na­tional Wildlife Refuge Com­plex in Ten­nessee, with 22,044 pounds of pes­ti­cides

• Ten­nessee Na­tional Wildlife Refuge Com­plex in Ten­nessee, with 16,615 pounds of pes­ti­cides

• Kla­math Basin Na­tional Wildlife Refuge Com­plex in Cal­i­for­nia and Ore­gon, with 236,966 pounds of pes­ti­cides

• Ch­e­sa­peake Marsh­lands Na­tional Wildlife Refuge Com­plex on the Eastern Shore of Mary­land and Vir­ginia, with 16,442 pounds of pes­ti­cides

The fol­low­ing are some other sta­tis­tics, for 2016 alone, noted in the study:

Aerial spray­ing of pes­ti­cides cov­ered 107,342 acres of refuge lands. This amounted to a to­tal of 127,020 pounds of pes­ti­cides. Of those, 1,328 pounds were from dicamba, an her­bi­cide that in runoff is highly toxic to fish, crus­taceans and am­phib­ians.

More than 116,200 pounds of glyphosate-laden prod­ucts were ap­plied to more than 55,000 agri­cul­tural acres across the refuge net­work. This is the same pes­ti­cide that was iden­ti­fied as a prob­a­ble car­cino­gen in Cal­i­for­nia, that has caused ma­jor dam­age to milk­weed plants and that has helped drop the pop­u­la­tion of the monarch but­ter­fly by 80% in the past 20 years.

More than 15,819 pounds of pes­ti­cides con­tain­ing 2,4-D were ap­plied to more than 12,000 refuge acres. This dan­ger­ous chem­i­cal com­pound is known to be toxic to mam­mals, birds, am­phib­ians, rep­tiles, fish and crus­taceans.

More than 6,800 pounds of pes­ti­cides con­tain­ing paraquat dichlo­ride were ap­plied on more than 3,000 acres of corn and soy­bean crops on the refuge lands. They were ap­plied pri­mar­ily by aerial spray­ing. Paraquat dichlo­ride is con­sid­ered so toxic that it is banned in 32 saner coun­tries, in­clud­ing the Euro­pean Union. Nu­mer­ous crus­taceans, mam­mals, fish, mol­lusks and am­phib­ians will sicken and/or die af­ter ex­po­sure to the chem­i­cal.

Be­sides the pes­ti­cide use, un­der new or­ders from Trump, the Arc­tic Na­tional Wildlife Refuge, pro­tected from any out­side in­flu­ence for al­most 60 years, is now open for oil drilling for the very first time. This hap­pened as a rider within the lat­est fed­eral bud­get pas­sage some months ago. It can only cause se­ri­ous dam­age to that par­tic­u­lar refuge, both from likely oc­ca­sional spills and from the com­bi­na­tion of drilling, con­struc­tion of roads and in­creased land use within the refuge. Many of the plants in this very cold re­gion of the world can take many years to re­cover even from the dam­age caused by a sin­gle foot­step taken in the wrong place.

In com­ment­ing about the in­creased use of pes­ti­cides on refuge lands, Han­nah Con­nor, a se­nior at­tor­ney at the Cen­ter for Bi­o­log­i­cal Di­ver­sity, said: “These refuges are sup­posed to be a safe haven for wildlife, but they’re be­com­ing a dump­ing ground for poi­sonous pes­ti­cides. Amer­i­cans as­sume these pub­lic lands are pro­tected, and I think most peo­ple would be ap­palled that so many pes­ti­cides are be­ing used to serve pri­vate, in­ten­sive agri­cul­tural op­er­a­tions.” She went on to say that “these pes­ti­cides are pro­foundly dan­ger­ous for plants and an­i­mals and have no place be­ing used on such a stag­ger­ing scale in our wildlife refuges. The In­te­rior De­part­ment needs to put an end to this out­rage and re­turn to its mis­sion of pro­tect­ing im­per­iled wildlife, not row crops.”

With­out fur­ther out­rage from the pub­lic de­mand­ing such ac­tion, it is un­likely that the cur­rent U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion will back off from its cur­rent plans to ac­cel­er­ate the abuse and poi­son­ing of these im­por­tant for­merly pro­tected lands. It is also so far “un­der the radar” for most peo­ple that few even know this is hap­pen­ing. Tril­lions urges you to share this ar­ti­cle with oth­ers and to de­mand ac­tion from your Con­gres­sional Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and the White House to re­verse these poli­cies be­fore it’s too late.

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