Why are GMO crops being planted in Wildlife Refuges?

  • Published on February 3rd, 2011

bombay hook snow geeseThe good news: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service settled a lawsuit by agreeing to stop allowing Genetically Modified (GMO) crops to be grown in National Wildlife Refuges. This only applies to Refuges in the Northeast, but it’s a start.

The bad news – what the heck is going on here? Why on Earth are GMO crops being grown on National Wildlife Refuges?


In theory a Wildlife Refuge is just that: A protected plot of land that is left wild so it can be used by, you know, wildlife.

But that’s not good enough for some folks. It’s not really land stewardship unless someone is making some money, and migrating snow geese just can’t pay up.

So the Fish and Wildlife Service has been leasing out land for farming. Theoretically, it doesn’t interfere with the whole wildlife thing. Not too much, anyway.

Planting seeds of destruction

According to the Center for Food Safety, as many as 75 Wildlife Refuges are currently hosting GMOs.

Here’s how it went down, as reported on their True Food Network:

  • National wildlife refuges have allowed farming for decades but in recent years refuge farming has been converted to [GMO]crops because that is only seed farmers can obtain.  Today, the vast majority of crops grown on refuges are genetically engineered…
  • In August 2009, several environmental groups led by the Center for Food Safety and PEER wrote to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar… asking him to “issue a moratorium on all [GMO] crop cultivation in National Wildlife Refuges”. But Secretary Salazar never responded to the letter…
  • The lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for Delaware…  charged that the Fish & Wildlife Service had illegally entered into Cooperative Farming Agreements with private parties, allowing hundreds of acres on its Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware to be plowed over without the environmental review required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
  • In settling the suit, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service promised to revoke any authorization for further [GMO] agriculture at Bombay Hook and the four other [Northeast District] refuges with [GMO] crops…
  • Because the federal government would not agree to end illegal [GMO] agriculture in refuges nationally, new litigation is being prepared in other regions…

What’s the big deal?

These lands are explicitly reserved for wildlife. Farming shouldn’t be allowed there at all; but if you must lease out refuge lands, it should only be for the most conscious and least toxic farming. GMOs (which are mostly designed for herbicide and pesticide use) don’t really fall into that category.

Not only that, but it’s illegal.

“Planting genetically engineered crops on wildlife refuges is resource management malpractice,” stated PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein, noting that Fish & Wildlife Service policy explicitly forbids “genetically modified agricultural crops in refuge management unless [they] determine their use is essential to accomplishing refuge purpose(s).”  “GE crops serve no legitimate refuge purpose, thus refuge officials must resort to outright fictions to claim these crops benefit wildlife.”

More on GMOs:

(Snow Geese at Bombay Hook picture Attribution Some rights reserved by U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Northeast Region)

About the Author

Jeremy Bloom is the Editor of RedGreenAndBlue. He lives in New York, where he combines his passion for the environment with his passion for film, and is working on making the world a better place.
  • This is a NIGHTMARE! Now you know why the frogs and bees are dying. These crops are full of nanogenomes, many structured to grow into partial cylindrical shapes, like crescents, which will torment, tear up and kill any living thing that ingests them. The liver and kidneys can’t filter them out. They easily cross the blood brain barrier, infiltrate all organs, and can even go airborne. They’ll get into the water supply and all creatures, killing all life.


    Efforts are being made to do away with the EPA, to get rid of oversight and intervention for the environment, and pave the way for agribusiness’s unbridled greed and domination. The Republicans are behind this. They’ve got a cover story (preventing globalism), but their goal is getting the land.

    This is a CALL TO ARMS!!! Don’t LET them POISON us!!!

  • Huh. Some smart environmentalists would use this as an opportunity to perform experiments on the nearby ecosystem and see if there are issues.

    But I’ll bet $5 that’s not going to show what you really want it to.

    Anyway, it would be a shame to ban GMOs entirely. I would love to see the GMO chestnut trees that are resistant to blight get restored up and down the east coast. The photos of the old ones are stunning. The homes they must have provided for so many species…

    Be careful what you wish for.

  • While I understand Jeremy’s point when he responds to this article by saying that the chemicals being used on these crops pose no threat to the animals in the area, I still wonder why farming is being allowed in a wildlife refuge at all. These areas were purchased with citizen tax money in order to be set aside for conservation. They are intended to be a place where the natural wildlife can continue living naturally, undisturbed by human developments. Farm lands are not natural, and many of the trees that were cleared in order to make room for the crops were likely hosts to a variety of species. We are already drilling for oil in a wildlife refuge, must we farm in them as well?

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  • Jeremy,
    There is nothing here to get alarmed about. First of all the crops often serve as food sources for the wildlife. If it is something like Bt corn it will not only be unnecessary to spray for European Corn Borer but any grain left in the field will be less likely to have mycotoxin contamination that could make the animals sick. The only crops we are talking about here that are “designed” for pesticides would be glyphosate resistant. Glyphosate has long been the tool of choice for the Nature Conservancy to use to battle invasive weeds in their protected areas. It has essentially no toxicity and breaks down very rapidly in soil etc. It is approved for use near water because it is safe for aquatic invertebrates, fish etc. You say that the farmers can’t find non-GMO seed. That is completely false. They would usually want the GMO seed because it gives them more successful crops. Oh, and by the way, the sky is not falling

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