By January 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency will ban the use of neonicotinoids, often called “neonics,” at National Wildlife Refuges across the country. Neonics are widely used nerve insecticides that an increasing number of scientific studies have shown are harmful to bees, birds, mammals,
and fish. Most often, agricultural seeds are coated with the neonics, which spread the toxins throughout the plant as the plant grows. More importantly, recent studies have raised concerns over the impact of neonics on birds and on aquatic systems.
Neonicotinoids currently account for 40 percent of the global pesticide market and are used to treat most of the corn and soybean crops in the U.S. Ironically, these nicotine-like chemicals were introduced in the 1990’s in response to health concerns linked to older pesticides.
In the announcement concerning the phase-out of neonics on refuges, the chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System, Jim Kurth, wrote, “We have determined that prophylactic use, such as a seed treatment, of the neonicotinoid pesticides that can distribute systemically in a plant and can affect a broad spectrum of non-target species is not consistent with Service policy.” In the same USFWS memo by Kurth, the Service announced that it will also begin to phase out the use of genetically modified crops to feed wildlife on refuges.