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Some Relief for Enviros Fighting GMOs, Pesticides

WASHINGTON (CN) - Uncle Sam must phase out its use of a certain pesticide at five wildlife refuges, and the future of genetically modified crops in Detroit Lakes, Minn., is uncertain as well, a federal judge ruled.

The March 16 decision comes in response to a complaint that nonprofit environmental groups led by the Center for Food Safety brought last year, challenging the U.S. government's decision to allow the use of pesticides and farming of genetically modified crops within the Midwest Region of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

Five wildlife refuges were at issue: the Detroit Lakes Wetlands Management District, in northwestern Minnesota; the Iowa Wetlands Management District, in north central Iowa; the Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge, in north central Missouri; the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge, in southern Illinois; and the Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge, in southern Illinois.

In their complaint, the environmentalists claimed that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedure Act by permitting the use of pesticides and farming of GMOs without first studying their effects on the sites.

In addition to the general application of various pesticides, the suit challenged the use of seeds treated with neonicotinoid pesticides at all five sites. The groups challenged the farming of genetically modified corn and soybeans in only the Detroit Lakes and Iowa Wetlands management districts.

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly granted the groups summary judgment Monday with regard to neonicotinoid pesticides, instructing FWS to phase out that chemical's use as soon as possible, and no later than Jan. 1, 2016.

The ruling notes that FWS already had that deadline in mind to stop using these pesticides in agricultural activities, but that the pesticides may not have been eliminated already.

A motion from the government regarding the use of pesticides also failed to address neonicotinoid seeds at all, the court found. Kollar-Kotelly said she took this to mean FWS is conceding that point.

FWS must file a notice by April 15, 2015, explaining the current extent of the seed usage, the ruling states.

Though the court sided with the government on all other pesticides, it said FWS must conduct an impact study before proceeding with any farming of genetically modified crops in the Detroit Lakes district. Such farming in the Iowa district meanwhile may continue.

Row crops have been farmed on national wildlife refuge land for decades to meet refuge objectives, and those crops are frequently farmed by private individuals through agreements with the FWS, Kollar-Kotelly explained.

FWS failed to sway the court with regard to the Detroit Lakes by pointing to a 2003 environmental assessment and comprehensive conservation plan. Kollar-Kotelly said those documents do not reference the use of genetically modified crops or even suggest that genetically modified crops would be planted on refuge lands.

That was not the case, however, with the plan in the Iowa district, according to the 27-page ruling.

The ruling concludes by siding with the government on the issue of revising the comprehensive conservation plan for the Cypress Creek refuge.

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