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Report Cites High Pesticide Use on TN Wildlife Refuges

It's estimated that pesticides are a major factor in the dwindling numbers of monarch butterflies. (Emily Carlin/Flickr)
It's estimated that pesticides are a major factor in the dwindling numbers of monarch butterflies. (Emily Carlin/Flickr)
May 14, 2018

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Two of Tennessee's national wildlife refuges are highlighted in a new report about the use of pesticides on refuge land for agricultural purposes.

Both are in west Tennessee – the West Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge Complex and the Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

The Center for Biological Diversity studied data obtained through public information requests and estimates in 2016, 490,000 pounds of pesticides were used nationwide on farmland within the refuges.

Hannah Connor, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, says there's reason to be concerned.

"Of the top five that we came up with, two were in Tennessee, and they were using all of these really concerning pesticides for low-crop agricultural practices," she states.

Together, the report says more than 38,0000 pounds of pesticides were used on the two Tennessee refuges in 2016.

Pesticides often are used on such crops as soybeans and sorghum.

Large-scale farmers who use them say pesticides are the only way they can profitably grow some crops.

The National Wildlife Refuge System is made up of certain protected areas managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Private farming has been allowed for years on refuge land, but it is supposed to be compatible with the aims of the refuge – to protect fish, wildlife and plants.

So, Connor says the use of chemicals on the land is surprising to many.

"Things that are really concerning for the wildlife and the beneficial insects, such as monarch butterflies, that rely on these national wildlife refuges for refuge,” she states. “And usually when I talk to people about refuges, the assumption is that they're going to be managed in a way that protects wildlife."

The report says aerial spraying is one of the most common methods of pesticide application in refuges.

There are 562 national wildlife refuges in the country, including wetlands and waterways that are home to more than 280 species protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - TN