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A mixed flock of waterfowl wading in a flooded agricultural field.
Information icon Watefowl in a flooded field. Photo by USFWS.

Final Environmental Assessment for Genetically Engineered Crops on National Wildlife Refuges in the Southeast

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has finalized the draft Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) for the potential use of genetically engineered crops (GECs) on national wildlife refuges in the southeastern United States.

The National Wildlife Refuge System, the public lands network managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, employs a number of wildlife management practices to deliver specific conservation objectives on each of the nation’s 568 national wildlife refuges. The use of GECs by farmers on refuges in the Southeast Region can help refuge managers meet the purposes of the refuge and provide wildlife forage for birds and other wildlife. Supporting waterfowl populations is a priority purpose for many southeastern refuges.

Most refuges that use agriculture as a management tool do so in cooperation with local farmers in order to meet our habitat and wildlife management objectives. In exchange for use of the land, growers leave a percentage of the crops in the field as forage for wildlife.

Cooperative farming is an effective, cost-efficient way for refuges to support waterfowl populations, which provide opportunities for hunting, wildlife observation and photography, and are an indication of a healthy wetland environment. The use of GECs reduce the number and amount of pesticides used in refuge agriculture practices. Use of insect resistant crops, for example Bt-corn, can eliminate or substantially reduce the need for topically-applied pesticides used to control corn earworms, corn borers, and corn rootworms. 

The Service limited the use of GECs on refuges in 2014. As a result, some refuges were no longer able to provide the amount of forage they once did. There may be situations where the use of GECs is essential to meet the purposes of the refuge and the energy needs of birds and other wildlife. Therefore, in 2018, the Service announced an update allowing for the reconsideration and possible use of GECs.

Next steps include waiting the court ordered 90-day waiting period before initiating the use of GECs on refuges. In theory, GECs could be used as early as September, but in reality planting won’t begin until spring. This timing, however, does allow for cooperative farmers to order seeds for spring planting.

Learn more and download a copy of the final PEA.


Mark Davis, Public Affairs Specialist, (404) 679-7291

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. For more information on our work and the people who can make it happen, visit Connect with the Service on Facebook, follow our tweets, watch the YouTube Channel and download photos from Flickr.

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