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Report: Toxic Pesticides Used on Leases in Fragile Wildlife Refuges

Dozens of migratory waterfowl and other species, many of them endangered, can be found at the Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge in Central Arkansas. (USFWS)
Dozens of migratory waterfowl and other species, many of them endangered, can be found at the Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge in Central Arkansas. (USFWS)
May 14, 2018

CLARKEDALE, Ark. – Commercial farms leased in many national wildlife refuges, including several in Arkansas, have been sprayed with nearly a half million pounds of toxic pesticides.

According to a report by the Center for Biological Diversity, the refuges are fragile environments that are home to hundreds of migrating birds and other endangered species.

Hannah Connor, a senior attorney with the Center and author of the report, says thousands of acres in wildlife refuges are regularly leased to grow commodity crops such as corn, soybeans and sorghum.

"It's pretty shocking that they would be dumping something like a half million pounds of pesticides in these refuges that were intended specifically for the benefit of wildlife," she states.

The four Arkansas refuges – Bald Knob, Big Lake, Cache River and Wapanocca – were sprayed with more than 48,000 pounds of pesticides in 2016.

Connor says the fields were treated with known toxins such as dicamba, glyphosate, 24D, and paraquat dichloride.

A spokesman for the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service says while there are regulations on the type and amount of pesticides that can be used in wildlife refuges, he could not say if any contractors had been cited in recent years for violations.

Connor says the Arkansas refuges are habitats for dozens of migrating birds that are particularly vulnerable to the chemicals.

"This issue has been really big in Arkansas,” she states. “They're also using pesticides like dicamba, and dicamba obviously is a pesticide that is prone to risk, that can cause all sorts of unintended consequences to plants and other crops that are exposed to it. "

The report lists several recommendations to mitigate the potential damage caused by using pesticides in refuges, but Connor says the best solution is to quit using them.

"Obviously, the best thing to do would be to stop allowing for pesticides used for these purposes,” she stresses. “That is an outrageous invasion within the Refuge Act and it's not something that supports the underlying mission of national wildlife refuges."

The report identifies a total of 270,000 acres of refuge land sprayed in Arkansas, California, Oregon, Tennessee, Maryland and Virginia.

Data for the report comes from records obtained by the Center under the Freedom of Information Act.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AR