On April 5, 2006, Delaware Audubon, the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) filed suit against the US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), seeking both declaratory and injunctive action, for violating various federal environmental and wildlife conservation laws, including the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act (NWRSAA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) by allowing cooperative farming and farming with genetically modified crops at the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge. These violations resulted in damage to the biological integrity of the refuge and are inconsistent with the purposes for which the refuge was established.
On March 24, 2009 the US District Court for Delaware found that, in fact, the defendants repeatedly violated NWRSAA by failing to conduct Compatibility Determinations for the conduct of farming operations on the refuge. The Court further found that the USFWS violated NEPA by failing to perform an Environmental Assessment or Environmental Impact Statement to determine the environmental impacts associated with the use of genetically modified organisms (GMO seeds) in farming operations on the refuge, in contravention of its own policies and despite the warnings by the refuge biologist that these activities posed significant environmental risks, including biological contamination, increased weed resistance and damage to soils.
The Court found that the USFWS actions were arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, and otherwise not in accordance with the law. The Court granted summary judgment against the USFWS and the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge and enjoined them from allowing any cooperative farming at Prime Hook and farming with genetically modified crops until the necessary studies and determinations are completed.
The Court's decision is clearly a victory in the public interest, an unambiguous statement on government mismanagement, and an indictment against the use of public resources for private economic gain. The decision also sets an important precedent for challenging similar activities on other refuges around the country.