The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Jeff Ruch (202) 265-7337

One-Third Of Wildlife Refuges Use GM Crops In Southeast

Genetically Modified Seeds Okayed by Obama Fish & Wildlife Service Director Pick Hamilton


One-third of National Wildlife Refuges in the Southeast U.S. are
growing genetically modified crops with approval from the official
tapped by the Obama White House to head the U.S. Fish & Wildlife
Service, according to agency records obtained today by Public Employees
for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Planting GM crops on a
wildlife refuge is illegal without full prior environmental and public
review under a federal court ruling won by PEER and allied groups last
year, but none of the Southeastern refuges have undertaken the required

National wildlife refuges have allowed farming for decades in
order to help prepare seed beds for native habitat such as grasslands
and provide food for migratory birds and other wildlife. In recent
years, refuge farming programs are being converted to GM crops because
that is the seed that farmers can obtain or, in some case, prefer.
Today, almost all the crops being grown on refuges are genetically

By law and policy, these refuges are supposed to be administered to
benefit wildlife, not local farmers. In fact, Fish & Wildlife
Service (FWS) policy explicitly forbids "genetically modified
agricultural crops in refuge management unless we determine their use
is essential to accomplishing refuge purpose(s)". By contrast to this
policy, in the Southeast Region, headed by Sam Hamilton, named by the
Obama administration as its intended nominee to lead the entire FWS,
records show -

  • One in three (41 of 128 total refuges) are growing GM crops;
  • No refuge has been denied permission for GM crops; and
  • The basis for Hamilton's Regional Office approval typically cites farmers' profitability or their preference for GM crops.

"What is supposed to be a last resort exception has become common
practice," stated PEER Executive Direct Jeff Ruch, who obtained copies
of all GM crop approvals from the FWS under the Freedom of Information
Act. "Sam Hamilton seems to embrace genetically engineered refuge
management with open arms."

Earlier this year in a lawsuit brought by PEER and other groups, a
federal court ordered FWS to stop planting GM crops on its Prime Hook
National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware. The court found that FWS had
illegally entered into Cooperative Farming Agreements without doing
compatibility determinations required by the National Wildlife Refuge
System Administration Act and environmental assessments required by the
National Environmental Policy Act. While the ruling was limited to one
refuge, its legal rationale applies to every refuge across the country.

The records obtained by PEER indicated that refuges in Hamilton's
region had not done the legally required reviews. "The next Director of
the Fish & Wildlife Service should have demonstrated both the
ability and willingness to follow the very laws that the agency is
supposed to administer," Ruch added. "Sam Hamilton's record strongly
suggests business as usual will continue at the Fish & Wildlife


See the list of SE refuges growing GM crops

Look at the spread of GM crops across the National Wildlife Refuge System

View U.S. District Court ruling on PEER lawsuit barring GM crops on Prime Hook NWR

Examine Sam Hamilton's record

Read some of the Southeast Region approvals for GM crops

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.