News | May 20, 2024

Iconic bird sanctuary is a bad place to test a chemical labeled toxic to birds 

At 40,000 acres, Lake Mattamuskeet is the largest lake in North Carolina and a critical stopover for hundreds of thousands of migratory birds every year. (Neil Jernigan)

Of all the places to test a chemical identified as toxic to birds, it’s hard to understand why our federal government would choose an iconic bird sanctuary. 

Today we asked a federal court to protect the iconic Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge by challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s thoughtless decision to allow the testing of an experimental algaecide treatment in the 40,000-acre Lake Mattamuskeet, a habitat for more than 250 bird species such as swans, ducks, and geese. 

We’re asking the federal agency to put the mission and purpose of this wildlife refuge first, and not turn hundreds of species of birds into lab rats when there are much better ways already available to maintain the health of the lake.

Ramona McGee, SELC Wildlife Program Leader

A safer and more sustainable plan to improve water quality and reduce algal blooms was already underway by a local coalition before the federal agency approved testing this dangerous pesticide, which can kill birds and corrode their beaks. The Florida legislature spent millions of dollars applying this product to several waterways, where it has failed to provide a lasting solution to harmful algal blooms. 

Senior Attorney Derb Carter and Ramona McGee, leader of SELC’s Wildlife Program, look down the scope at one of the impoundments at Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge in winter. (Cornelius Lewis/SELC)

SELC represents Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club in this legal challenge. The lawsuit challenges violations of the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act.   

The groups are asking the court to block the plan until the Fish and Wildlife Service conducts a full analysis that protects the mission and purpose of the wildlife refuge, plus takes a hard look at the toxic algaecide harms and the available alternatives. 

 “It might seem reasonable to assume that the federal government would refrain from using a national bird sanctuary to test a private company’s experimental algaecide, particularly one that reads ‘toxic to birds’ on the label, and yet here we are,” says Erin Carey, acting director, N.C. Chapter of Sierra Club. “[We are] proud to stand between the delicate and irreplaceable beauty of Lake Mattamuskeet and the casual disregard of corporate interest.”