NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will hold five public meetings around the South in June to hear what people think about using genetically modified crops on refuges to provide food for ducks, geese and other migrating waterfowl.
Under cooperative agreements with the agency, farmers harvest part of the crops they grow on about 44,000 acres scattered in various refuges — about 1 percent of the land in 138 refuges in a district covering 10 states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
About 100 million ducks and geese rely on refuges for wintering grounds and food, according to Southeast Regional Director Cindy Dohner, the Southeast Regional Director.
"These farming operations are an important part of our effort to meet conservation objectives ... for healthy populations of migratory birds," she said in a news release.
Until this year, the agency let farmers use seeds modified for resistance to the herbicide in Roundup or to include insect-killing bacteria.
It stopped after the Center for Food Safety and two other environmental groups sued in Washington, contending that the crops encourage overuse of herbicides and the growth of herbicide-resistant weeds, hurt beneficial insects and change soil ecology. Similar lawsuits filed by the groups in Delaware ended use of GM seeds in the agency's 12-state Northeast Region.
A November ruling by U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg calls for three years of checks to remove and destroy genetically modified seedlings at every Southeast Region refuge where the biotech crops were planted. It also must conduct a new environmental analysis before deciding whether farmers may resume using genetically modified crops.
The meetings are part of that analysis. They are scheduled June 6 at the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in Columbia, N.C., June 10 at the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in Decatur, Ala., June 11 at the Dyersburg Activity Center in Dyersburg, Tenn., June 12 at the Natchez Convention Center in Mississippi and June 13 at the Best Western hotel in Alexandria, La. In addition to those states, the region includes Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and South Carolina.
A 90-day comment period will end July 28. People can also mail comments to the agency's Atlanta office, email them to fw4_gmcpea(at)fws.gov or upload them to https://sites.google.com/site/fwsregion4gmcpeis/.
Fish and Wildlife agreed on April 11 to pay $84,000 in attorney fees and costs for the Center for Food Safety, Beyond Pesticides and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
Similar lawsuits filed by the groups in Delaware ended use of GM seeds in the agency's 12-state Northeast Region.
Genetically modified crops: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/brs/ph_permits.html
USFWS Southeast Region: http://www.fws.gov/southeast/
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility: www.peer.org/
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.