(Reuters) - Conservationists on Wednesday notified the Trump administration that they would sue over its reversal of a 2014 decision prohibiting bee-killing pesticides and genetically modified crops on U.S. wildlife refuges.
The reversal, issued on Aug. 2 in a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service memo, suggested that neonicotinoid pesticides, or neonics, were needed for “farming practices” in refuge areas where that was allowed.
Cultivation of biotech crops, engineered to resist pests and withstand herbicides, has helped maximize crop production on dozens of wildlife refuges.
A certain amount of agricultural activity has been permitted on some refuges, where typically a share of the crops is harvested by farmers for profit while another share is left as food or habitat for animals.
Conservationists said in Wednesday’s notice of a pending lawsuit that neonics and pesticides to which biotech crops are immune are known to injure and kill imperiled creatures that rely on refuges whose fundamental purpose is wildlife conservation.
“It’s shameful that the government is promoting agents that its own scientists say harm threatened and endangered species,” Hannah Connor, attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, told Reuters.
The notice by the Arizona-based group and the Center for Food Safety to U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and the deputy director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, an Interior agency, said the lawsuit would be filed in federal court in 60 days unless the new policy is rescinded.
A spokeswoman for Zinke referred inquiries to the U.S. Justice Department, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In 2014, amid lawsuits by environmentalists, the head of the system that oversees the nation’s 560 refuge units ordered phasing out of GM crops and the use of neonics since they could harm “non-target” animals and plants and since they were not needed for wildlife management goals that had been successfully met in their absence.
Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Pinedale, Wyoming; Editing by Bill Tarrant and James Dalgleish