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 2019 and 2020, Audubon led a community science project to monitor and document dicamba herbicide damage to vegetation on public lands in order to gain a better understanding of the geographic range, extent, and severity of unintended damages. The full report is attached below.
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 363 observations of apparent dicamba symptomology on a variety of plants across 20 eastern Arkansas counties. Plant species impacted, which included sycamore, oak, pawpaw, redbud, and trumpetvine, were growing on public lands such as university research farms, wildlife management areas, city parks, cemeteries, and many county and state roads. This includes three state natural areas that harbor the endangered species Red-cockaded Woodpecker and Pondberry. There are at least 30 instances where our observations occurred within two miles of where Plant Board inspectors collected pigweed tissue samples that tested positive for dicamba on dates that are after the May 25 cutoff. In 2020, we observed nearly 100 locations where pigweed had apparently been sprayed after the cutoff.
A 2020 report by National Wildlife Federation, Prairie Rivers Network, and Xerces Society, "Drifting Toward Disaster," summarizes what we know, and don't know, about dicamba's off-target impacts (attached below).
A panel of judges for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that EPA's approval of the use of XtendiMax, Engenia and FeXapan on an estimated 60 million acres of Xtend soybeans and cotton is vacated -- or ended -- effective on June 3, 2020. Then the EPA announced that farmers and applicators may use their existing supply of these chemicals through July 31. This does not apply to Arkansas, however, where the cutoff date was May 25. Unfortunately, we are already seeing evidence of illegal spraying in this state. It is extremely important that pesticide misuse complaints be submitted to the Plant Board. Or you may submit a confidential complaint through Audubon. These reports do matter; environmental organizations like Audubon and the Center for Biological Diversity use these to strengthen our case for an effective ban, not only at the state level but nationally as well.
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.