Three environmental advocacy organizations have sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), contending that the agency has permitted farmers to cultivate genetically engineered (GE) crops on national wildlife refuge land in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act, National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act and Administrative Procedure Act. Ctr. for Food Safety v. Salazar, No. 11-01457 (U.S. Dist. Ct., D.D.C., filed August 11, 2011). The plaintiffs seek a declaration to this effect and a permanent injunction barring FWS from “allowing any cultivation of GE crops on wildlife refuges” until the agency prepares an environmental impact statement for each of 25 refuges in eight states.

According to the complaint, FWS supported its decision to enter cooperative farming agreements with private parties, some of whom grow GE crops, with “a six-page Environmental Assessment (EA) and . . . a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), despite evidence that growing GE crops on refuge lands is a major federal action which significantly impacts the quality of the human environment, is highly controversial, and which has potentially harmful effects on human health, the environment, and wildlife.” The plaintiffs allege, among other matters, that their members are harmed due to interference with their aesthetic enjoyment of wildlife refuges, risk of exposure to increased herbicide use, and difficulties in growing and consuming non-GE crops due to contamination from GE crops on nearby refuge lands.

Claiming that GE crops have been growing on wildlife refuges in southeastern U.S. states since 2006 and currently encompass 69 percent of refuge agricultural lands on more than 44,000 acres, the plaintiffs allege that FWS’s decision to adopt a FONSI on the basis of a cursory regional EA, was arbitrary and capricious and was undertaken “without providing proper opportunity for public notice and comment.” According to a news source, an FWS spokesperson indicated that the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency approved the GE crop plantings. See Tennessean.com, August 12, 2011.