National Wildlife Refuge System

Farming on Refuges

The public is encouraged to comment on the future use of genetically modified crops (GMCs) on national wildlife refuges in the southeast region.
Credit: USFWS

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking public comment on the future use of genetically modified crops (GMCs) on national wildlife refuges in the southeast region.  The public is encouraged to review information and attend public meetings that will be held in June.  The 90-day comment period ends on July 28, 2013. 

Refuges use farming to help meet specific conservation objectives for waterfowl and other species. They have been used on national wildlife refuges since their de-regulation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) in the 1990s.  APHIS evaluates each GMC through an extensive scientific process before granting it deregulated status and allowing its use on refuges. GMCs are plants that have had their DNA modified through genetic engineering to improve growth and resist pests.

About one percent – 44,000 acres – of the land in the southeast region is currently devoted to farming. Many of these refuges are concentrated along the major migratory waterfowl flyways of the Mississippi River, the Tennessee Valley and eastern North Carolina.  Until the end of the 2012 planting season, GMC and non-GMC crop seeds were used on refuge lands to provide food for millions of ducks, geese and other migrating waterfowl.  GMC and non-GMC crops were rotated every four years.

"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 southeast region is governed by a national Service biological integrity policy covering the use of GMCs.  Each refuge manager with a farmer program must justify the use of GMCs by answering a detailed questionnaire. The questionnaire is reviewed at the regional level to determine if the use of GMCs is justified.  

Due to litigation, the southeast region stopped using GMCs at the end of 2012. Now the region is undertaking further analysis of the effects of GMC soybeans and corn on the human environment, according to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Comments may be submitted at public scoping meetings, online or by mail.

Full details and discussion of GMCs on refuges in the Southeast Region are available here.

Last updated: May 1, 2013