MEDFORD, Ore. (CN) – Though the United States set aside 90,000 acres for wildlife refuges on the Oregon-California border, it allows spraying of agricultural pesticides on tens of thousands of acres there, defeating the purpose of the refuges, the Center for Biological Diversity claims in court.
The Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on March 23 in Federal Court, for allowing pesticide spraying on more than 31,000 acres of the Tule Lake and Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuges, two of five wildlife refuges in the Klamath Basin.
Specifically, the Center challenges the Jan. 13 Record of Decision that established a 15-year Comprehensive Conservation Plan for the five wildlife refuges, the Upper Klamath, Lower Klamath, Tule Lake, Clear Lake, and Bear Valley Refuges.
“The Tule Lake and Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuges were established as refuges and breeding grounds for birds,” the complaint states. Yet Fish and Wildlife allows commercial agriculture on at least 22,000 of the 90,000 acres of the two refuges, and has allowed pesticide spraying on even more acres.
“The purposes of the refuges also include wildlife conservation and the major purpose of wildlife management,” the complaint continues. “The Service may allow agricultural use of these two refuges only if compatible with the purposes of the refuges and consistent with the major purpose of waterfowl management.”
The wetlands and forests of the refuges provide vital habitat for bald eagles, geese, trumpeter swans, Western tanagers and other species. The Tule Lake refuge is roughly 39,000 acres, the Lower Klamath refuge 51,000 acres.
The agency allows spraying of insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and rodenticides on tens of thousands of these acres these lands, under a Lease Land Farming and Cooperative Farming Programs. It leases 22,000 acres of the two refuges under the two programs, and allows the use of pesticides – insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, and rodenticides — on far more than, that, according to the complaint. Yet it permits pesticide spraying on far more acres than that.
In its Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Impact States, the complaint states, “the Service reports that it allowed the application of pesticides on lease lands at these two refuges on at least 53,342 acres in 2008, 63,362 acres in 2009, 31,220 acres in 2010, 62,879 acres in 2011, 67,475 acres in 2012, 96,691 acres in 2013, and 78,793 acres in 2014.”
Unless contiguous areas are included, it’s unclear how 96,961 acres could have been contaminated on the 90,000 acres of the two refuges in 2013. Center for Biological Diversity attorney Stephanie Parent said in an interview that the problem extends beyond the refuges named in the lawsuit.
“Most people would be surprised to know just how widespread agricultural use on refuges is and that they are allowed to use pesticides,” Parent said.
The pesticides include chemicals that the Department of the Interior has rated as “of concern” to the health of birds and the fish and insects they eat, according to the complaint.
Fish and Wildlife is violating its own mission by allowing this, as “the application of pesticides has numerous adverse effects on native species, their food, ecosystems, and ecological processes, undermines the biological integrity, diversity, and environmental health of the refuges, and is contrary to the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act (Refuge Act) and the purposes of these refuges,” the complaint states.
Parent says the government lets farmers spray the chemicals even though it doesn’t know how it might affect huge swaths of important bird habitat.
“We’re learning more and more about the impacts and use of pesticides,” she said. “They are using very toxic insecticides on potatoes and onions. And we’re learning more every day about what those do to plants and animals. There’s a whole host of effects that Fish and Wildlife isn’t really evaluating.”
Fish and Wildlife also violated the core mission of the refuges — and the law — by refusing to consider alternative plans such as banning aerial spraying, prohibiting crops such as onions and potatoes that require heavy use of pesticides, and banning pesticides that are known to be harmful to wildlife.
“They declined to look at any alternatives,” Parent said. “I’m not sure why they are so wedded to the approach they took, but we will find that out through litigation.”
Representatives for U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge did not return calls requesting comment.
The Center seeks declaratory judgment that the Comprehensive Conservation Plan violates the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act, the Administrative Procedure Act, and the Kuchel Act of 1964, which allows agricultural use of the refuges only if it is “consistent” with protecting wildlife and wildlife. It also seeks an injunction prohibiting use of the pesticides until the Service adequately studies their effects and considers alternative plans.
Parent is with the Center for Biological Diversity’s Portland office.