Audubon believes that working lands can work for birds and people. But the increasing use of dicamba is putting birds at risk in our agricultural landscape. Dicamba is an herbicide, the use of which is skyrocketing because Monsanto is pushing its soybean and cotton varieties that have been genetically modified to be resistant. Dicamba's volatility means it can do damage to non-GMO crops and native plants far beyond where applied. The Arkansas State Plant Board continues to ignore the science and public input by allowing dicamba to be sprayed through May 25.
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In June, Audubon launched a community science project to document possible dicamba damage to vegetation on public lands and test our prediction of landscape-scale impacts to bird habitat. Our data reveal that dicamba’s off-target impact to plants is widespread in both geographic scope and number of species afflicted. Audubon staff and trained volunteers made 243 observations of apparent dicamba symptomology on a variety of plants across 17 eastern Arkansas counties. Plant species impacted, which includes sycamore, oak, redbud, muscadine, and trumpetvine, were growing on public lands such as university research farms, wildlife management areas, city parks, cemeteries, and many county and state roads. There are at least 14 instances where our observations occur within two miles of where Plant Board inspectors collected pigweed tissue samples that tested positive for dicamba. The full report is attached below.
After receiving 1,300 complaints about damage to crops, trees, and more, the Plant Board instituted an emergency ban on the growing season use of dicamba. In 2017, Governor Hutchinson convened an 18-member task force representing a cross-section of those most affected by the issues surrounding dicamba use. After examining all sides of the issue and hearing from a variety of experts and stakeholders, the task force came to a consensus that the cutoff date for the in-crop use of dicamba in Arkansas should be April 15. They decided this issue should be revisited for the 2019 growing season after more research has been done.
Research conducted by the University of Arkansas shows that the new dicamba formulations are volatile—the product can move off target in all directions, damaging 1.5-times more acres than are treated. The high temperatures and humidity we experience in Arkansas’ warmer months can dramatically increase volatility and thus collateral damage. Damage has already been documented to non-resistant crops, honeybee production, nearby trees, duck food, and native plants and pollinators. In a landscape full of GMO crops, the build-up of volatile dicamba could be enough to damage our state natural areas, wildlife management areas, national wildlife refuges, family farms, and the wildlife they harbor.
Despite the scientific evidence, the Arkansas State Plant Board voted on December 6, 2018, to extend the cutoff date and allow dicamba use to May 21. Governor Hutchinson approved their proposal. This started a 30-day public comment period, which closed Feb. 5. At a public hearing on February 20, to our shock and dismay, the Plant Board voted to advance the cutoff date even further into the growing season, to May 25, and to cut back buffer widths and make other changes that were not in the original proposal the public commented on. Following that Audubon and our advocates contacted legislators who review state agency rule changes. We made the case the Plant Board did not follow proper procedures nor their mission. Despite tough questioning of Plant Board staff, approval was granted and the rule change became law.
Rains and flooding delayed the 2019 planting season. In spite of the law, dicamba spraying was widespread throughout the summer. Proof is in the 213 tissue samples collected by Plant Board inspectors from 86 sites that have tested positive for dicamba so far, and the 198 dicamba misuse complaints submitted so far. Cases are still being investigated and tissue samples are still being processed, indicating more proof of widespread illegal dicamba use is to come. It is under these conditions that we launched our community science monitoring project.
On December 3, 2019, University of Arkansas weed scientist Dr. Jason Norsworthy reported to the Plant Board on the latest research findings from AR and other states, all investigating further into dicamba’s volatility and concluding that it can’t be controlled, and thus can’t be sprayed in warm weather without off-target impacts. Despite hearing the science and receiving a majority of public comments that requested a mid-April cutoff, on December 11, the Plant Board voted to not change the regulations going into 2020.
Hear more of the story in this Us & Them podcast.
Help us fight dicamba!
Dickcissels breed in agricultural fields. Photo: Matt Stephenson
Help us fight dicamba!
Donate to our campaign to monitor public lands for signs of dicamba damage.