Jul. 21, 2014
Neonicotinoid pesticides will be phased out from national wildlife refuges in the Northwest, a move that troubles industry groups that believe the chemicals are being unfairly targeted.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has decided to eliminate the use of neonicotinoids by 2016 on roughly 8,700 acres of refuge land where farmers grow crops in Oregon, Washington and Idaho.
Environmentalists have cheered the phase-out, which they say will benefit pollinators and native species that inhabit refuge lands in the agency’s Pacific region.
"This is a good first step that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is taking note," said Paige Tomaselli, attorney with the Center for Food Safety environmental group. "Hopefully, it will lead other agencies to take note."
That’s exactly the effect feared by industry groups that see neonicotinoids as a safe tool for pest control if used properly.
The USDA and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency think varroa mites — and the viruses they spread — are a much bigger threat to honeybees and other pollinators, said Heather Hansen, executive director of Washington Friends of Farms & Forests.
"I would hope the federal agencies would follow the lead agencies on this one," she said.
Poor nutrition may also be a culprit for bees that feed on only a handful of crops and are hauled long distances for pollination services, said Scott Dahlman, executive director of Oregonians for Food and Shelter.
"It's disappointing to see agencies bow to activist pressure instead of following the science on pollinator health," Dahlman said of the neonicotinoid phase-out.
The battle against neonicotinoids has been espoused by groups that never had much prior interest in pollinator health but now see the problem as a way to discourage pesticides, he said.
"At the end of the day, they’re just anti-pesticide," he said.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to "exhaust all alternatives" before allowing neonicotinoids on refuge land in 2015 and then discontinue the pesticides altogether in 2016.
The agency made this decision because neonicotinoids can harm "non-target insects" and persist in the environment, which contradicts its "integrated pest management" policy, according to a letter sent to refuge managers by a USFWS official.
National wildlife refuges commonly allow farmers to cultivate portions of the land if they agree to leave some of their crops for wildlife to consume, or if they agree to help with habitat restoration.
Generally, the agency doesn’t allow crops to be sprayed with insecticides on refuge land during the growing season, but seeds treated with neonicotinoids may have been used on land in the Pacific region, according to USFWS.