Groups are trying to block Mattamuskeet algaecide treatment

Flocks of waterfowl on Lake Mattamuskeet.  Photo: Allie Stewart/USFWS
Flocks of waterfowl on Lake Mattamuskeet. Photo: Allie Stewart/USFWS

CHAPEL HILL – Citing threats to migratory birds, wildlife advocates have filed a complaint in federal court to block the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from allowing an experimental algae control treatment of Lake Mattamuskeet.

The Southern Environmental Law Center filed the lawsuit Monday in the Eastern District of North Carolina on behalf of Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club. The groups are seeking to block the plan at Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge until the Fish and Wildlife Service conducts a more thorough analysis that “takes a closer look at the harm from the toxic algaecide and available alternatives.”

The groups point to the product’s former Environmental Protection Agency labeling, which shows the product is toxic to birds. They note that shallow Lake Mattamuskeet is an important habitat for more than 250 bird species, including swans, ducks and geese.

Related: State issues certificate for treatment of Lake Mattamuskeet

“A bird sanctuary is not a place to experiment with a chemical that is toxic to birds,” said Southern Environmental Law Center senior attorney Ramona McGee, who leads the law center’s Wildlife Program. “We ask the Fish and Wildlife Service to put the mission and purpose of this wildlife refuge first, and not turn wild birds into lab rats when there are far better ways available to preserve the health of the lake.”

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality said Thursday that the Water Resources Division had approved a certificate of coverage that would allow BlueGreen Water Technologies to begin the pilot study June 1 for treating cyanobacteria in select areas of the freshwater lake.

Fish and Wildlife is working on the proposed treatment with the Institute of Marine Sciences at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.

Officials say the pelletized product is safe after it is dissolved in water. Lawyers disagree.

Related: USFWS plans to chemically treat part of Lake Mattamuskeet

“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, especially one that says ‘toxic to birds’ on the label, and yet we here,” Erin Carey said. , Acting Director, NC Chapter of Sierra Club. “The North Carolina Sierra Club is proud to stand between the delicate and irreplaceable beauty of Lake Mattamuskeet and the casual disregard for corporate interests.”

“The Fish and Wildlife Service must do everything in its power to preserve this important bird sanctuary,” said Jane Davenport, senior attorney at Defenders of Wildlife. “Instead, FWS is giving the green light to a private company to turn a wildlife refuge into a laboratory for experimental, unproven treatments with known dangers to the wildlife the refuge is designed to protect.”