News Release
Southeast Region

 

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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Invites Public to Provide Input to Environmental Assessment to Review Use of Genetically Modified Crops

April 29, 2013

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Rows of green crops in cracked soil

Row of corn crops. Photo: USFWS

 

A black bear peeking out over crops in a field

Bear in a field. Photo: Jeff Lewis

 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking public input as it evaluates the future use of genetically modified crops on national wildlife refuges that use farming in the Southeast Region. These refuges use farming as a wildlife management tool to help meet refuge specific conservation objectives for waterfowl and other species. 

Genetically modified crops (GMCs, GM crops, or biotech crops) are plants that have had their DNA modified by using genetic engineering techniques to improve growth and resist pests and other harmful agents.  These crops have been used since their de-regulation by the U. S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) in the mid 1990s. Since then, GMCs have become a widespread feature of American agriculture. 

The public is encouraged to review information or attend public meetings that will be held in June.  Comments will be considered and a determination will be made after addressing those comments and any new information that is accumulated during this environmental assessment.  The 90-day comment period will end on July 28, 2013.

APHIS continues to evaluate each GMC through an extensive scientific evaluation and regulatory process before granting non-regulated status.  Only those GMCs that have been evaluated and deregulated by APHIS will be considered for use on our farming refuges in the Southeast Region. The list of deregulated GMCs and GMCs still under petition is located on the APHIS website at: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/brs/ph_permits.html.

Of the almost four million acres of refuge lands in the Southeast about one percent (or about 44,000 acres) are currently devoted to farming.  Up until 2013, GMC and non-GMC crop seeds were used on national wildlife refuges to provide food for the millions of ducks, geese and other migrating waterfowl that use refuges in the Southeast each year.  GMC and non-GMC crops were used together in a crop rotation practice following the Service’s Regional GMC policy requiring that farmed acres are to be rotated to a non-Glyphosate GMC/non-GMC crop seed every four years. This rotation greatly reduced the chances of target pest species developing resistance to the chemical Glyphosate.

The Southeast Region ceased using GMCs at the conclusion of the 2012 planting season as a result of litigation. It is undertaking additional NEPA analysis as a result of that litigation to further analyze the effects upon the human environment of the use of GMC soybeans and corn in the Southeast Region’s refuge farming program. 

"Each year roughly 100 million ducks and geese head south mostly along the Mississippi and Atlantic Flyways that rely on our refuges for wintering grounds and food," says Cindy Dohner, the Southeast Regional Director.  "These farming operations are an important part of our effort to meet conservation objectives in the North American Waterfowl Management Plan developed by the Service and our partners in Canada, Mexico, the states, as well as Non-Governmental-Organizations for healthy populations of migratory birds." 

The scope of this analysis will apply to all refuges in the Southeast Region that may utilize farming as a tool for wildlife habitat management. Many of these refuges are concentrated along the major migratory waterfowl flyways of the Mississippi Valley, the Tennessee Valley, and eastern coastal North Carolina. 

The NEPA analysis will focus on corn and soybean GMC varieties and on their Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt) insertions.  Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt) is a bacterium found in soil that has properties that allow it to be used as a biological pesticide.  It has been used as a pesticide since the 1920s, and can now be inserted into the DNA of plants to serve as a pesticide to larva and other insects.  

These crops will be the only ones considered for use to meet conservation goals on refuges in the foreseeable future.  Any other GMC crop proposed for use in the future will be evaluated through additional NEPA analysis.

We invite public scoping comments on the environmental assessment as it is being planned.  Comments may be submitted in several ways:

Public scoping meetings will be held at five locations in the region at 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. local times at the following dates and locations:

June 6:
Pocosin Lakes NWR, 205 South Ludington Drive, Columbia, NC 27925  

June 10:
Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, 2700 Refuge Headquarters Road, Decatur, AL 35603 

June 11:
Dyersburg Activity Center, 1101 Shelby Drive, Dyersburg, TN 38024

June 12:  
Natchez Convention Center, Natchez Room, 211 Main Street, Natchez, MS 39120

June 13: 
Best Western of Alexandria Inn & Suites & Conference Center, Magnolia Room, 
2720 N. MacArthur Drive, Alexandria, LA 71303

For additional information and to submit comments for consideration in the scoping phase of the PEA please visit the website https://sites.google.com/site/fwsregion4gmcpeis/.  The website will be the online center for public information, updates, and involvement in the environmental assessment process. 

Comments may also be sent by mail by July 28, 2013 to: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1875 Century Boulevard, Suite 400, Attention: NEPA Coordinator, Atlanta, Georgia 30345, and may also be sent via email to: fw4_gmcpea@fws.gov

 

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov. Connect with our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/usfwssoutheast, follow our tweets at www.twitter.com/usfwssoutheast, watch our YouTube Channel at http://www.youtube.com/usfws and download photos from our Flickr page at http://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwssoutheast.

 

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Last updated: April 29, 2013