10/08/2019 - Regulatory Rollback

Neonicotinoid Ban in National Wildlife Refuges

by Elizabeth Melampy, JD 2021, Laura Bloomer

The Environmental & Energy Law Program is tracking the environmental regulatory rollbacks of the Trump administration. Click here for the list of rules we are following. If you’re a reporter and would like to speak with an expert on this rule, please email us.

Why it Matters

The National Wildlife Refuge System is the nation’s largest collection of land set aside for fish and wildlife preservation. Protecting biological diversity and integrity and conserving the system’s wildlife are the central tenets of the Refuge System’s mission.

Neonicotinoids are neurotoxic pesticides that have proven negative impacts on pollinators, migratory birds, and other wildlife. Genetically modified seeds are often developed to be resistant to a certain pesticide, like a neonicotinoid, ensuring that the pesticide can be used freely without harming the crop yield. Banning the pair within the Refuge System protects the lands and wildlife from harmful chemicals.

Current Status

August 2, 2018 Fish and Wildlife Service issues a memorandum withdrawing a 2014 prohibition on neonicotinoid pesticides and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in wildlife refuges. The 2018 memo states that the Refuge System will determine use of GMO seeds and neonicotinoid pesticides on a case-by-case basis.

September 26, 2019 Conservation groups file suit against the Department of the Interior and the Fish and Wildlife Service for reversing the GMO and neonicotinoid pesticide ban, Center for Biological Diversity v. Bernhardt, 1:19-cv-02898 (D.C. Cir.).

History

October 9, 1997 The National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 amends the National Wildlife Refuge Administration Act of 1966 to provide further instruction for management of the Refuge System. The law emphasizes the mission of protecting and conserving wildlife on the lands, including fish, plants, and migratory birds.

July 17, 2014 The Chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System issues a memorandum pledging to phase out the use of neonicotinoid pesticides and genetically modified crops in agricultural practices within the Refuge System by January 2016.

Trump Era

August 2, 2018 Fish and Wildlife Service issues a memorandum withdrawing the 2014 prohibition on neonicotinoid pesticides and GMOs. The 2018 memo states that the Refuge System will determine use of GMO seeds and neonicotinoid pesticides on a case-by-case basis.

September 26, 2019 Conservation groups file suit in the District of Columbia against the Department of the Interior and the Fish and Wildlife Service for reversing the GMO and neonicotinoid pesticide ban, Center for Biological Diversity v. Bernhardt, 1:19-cv-02898 (D.C. Cir.). The groups argue that the reversal substantively violated the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act and unlawfully failed to follow required procedures under the National Environmental Procedure Act, Endangered Species Act, and the Administrative Procedures Act.