WASHINGTON - November 7 - The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has decided to expand a controversial give-away in which local farmers grow genetically modified soybeans and corn on Delaware’s at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) today released a letter protesting the move as wreaking ecological havoc and violating the Service’s own policies.
“Plowing under high-quality grasslands to plant soybeans does wildlife no good and sets a terrible precedent affecting the entire National Wildlife Refuge System,” stated Gene Hocutt, the head of PEER’s Refuge Keeper program and a former long-time refuge manager. “Prime Hook is supposed to be a National Wildlife Refuge – not a national soybean patch!”
Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge covers some 10,000 acres but 500 of those acres are being used by local farmers to grow soybeans and corn. The farmers switched over to genetically modified crops in 2001. At that time, the Refuge took 150 acres (3 fields each about 50 acres in size) out of the farming program to participate in a regional Grassland Bird study. The study found rare plants and insects as well as unique birding opportunities. Despite those findings, the Refuge now plans to put the 150 study acres back into cultivation.
“The Fish & Wildlife Service dropped its fig leaf when it decided to give away even the little bit of acreage needed for the biological study,” Hocutt added, noting that data collection on natural plant communities and bird use will have to cease and the $200,000 spent on the study will be wasted.
In a letter of protest that it sent to the Service, PEER contends that the Refuge cultivation program –
- Violates Service rules banning non-native plants and regulations requiring that “economic activity,” such as farming, must be determined to be compatible with the biological diversity on the Refuge – a determination that has not been made at Prime Hook;
- Trades off early successional grassland-shrub habitats for fertilizer and pesticide intensive row-crops, to the detriment of wildlife; and
- Continues even though Prime Hook lacks required conservation and habitat protection plans.
PEER is now recruiting local conservationists and organizations to join a lawsuit to end the Prime Hook farming program.
“What is happening at Prime Hook is not just poor biology, it is illegal as hell,” Hocutt concluded.