The Xerces Society

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The Xerces Society is a Portland, Oregon-based 501c3 non-profit campaigning and regulatory advocacy organization founded in 1974. Xerces focuses on lobbying against the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, which it sees as bee and other insect killers, and opposing food production technologies including genetically modified plants and organisms (GMOs). The Society’s IRS mission statement says “The Society is at the forefront of invertebrate protection worldwide, harnessing the knowledge of scientists and the enthusiasm of citizens to implement conservation programs.” The name Xerces refers to the extinct California butterfly, Xerces Blue.

 Money 

 

  • Xerces 2013 Assets: $1,733,875 including $6,061 in publicly traded securities
  • Xerces 2013 Income: $2,491,596; 2012 income $2,000,869
  • Xerces spent $538,701 lobbying during 2013; all years lobbying total, $2,389,351
  • Xerces spent $236,681 on fundraising
  • Xerces spent $1,301,282 on salaries
  • Xerces received during the group’s history in Oregon 129 grants from 40 foundation totaling $2,379,900.

Power

  • Xerces has received federal grants of $166,900 since 2006
  • The Society also collaborates with federal and state agencies including the US Department of Agriculture, as well as scientists, land managers, educators, and citizens “to promote invertebrate conservation, applied research, advocacy, public outreach and education,” according to its website.
  • Examples of Xerces Society activities include advocating for invertebrates and their habitats, including intrusion upon private property, petitioning for the designation of endangered status for applicable species such as the monarch butterfly, and public education projects. Ongoing projects include the rehabilitation of habitat for endangered species, public education about the importance of native pollinators, and the restoration and protection of watersheds, generally at the cost of individuals, companies and local governments.

Network Interactions

  • Top ten Xerces contributors during group’s Oregon history, ranked by amount:
    • Turner Foundation – $420,000
    • C.S. Fund – $213,000
    • Meyer Memorial Trust – $170,000
    • Bullitt Foundation – $155,000
    • Sarah K. De Coizart Article Tenth Perpetual Charitable Trust – $120,000
    • Regina Frankeberg Foundation – $120,000
    • New-Land Foundation, Inc. – $110,000
    • Warsh Mott Legacy – $107,200
    • The Dudley Foundation – $103,800
    • Alice C. Tyler Perpetual Trust 121693 – $100,00

Background & History

The Xerces Society is a Delaware corporation registered in Wilmington on September 26, 1975 by butterfly scientist Robert Michael Pyle (PhD, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies), and reincorporated with the Oregon Secretary of State on April 14, 1988. The assumed name Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation is used on the group’s website, in fundraising and grant requests, but only Xerces Society, Inc. appears on its IRS Form 990 annual reports.

 

 Controversies

Misinformation on “Colony Collapse” and Neonicotinoid Use

The Xerces Society is among the most negative opponents of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, a family of insecticides chemically similar to nicotine. Neonicotinoids became controversial after allegations that neonicotinoids cause bee colony collapse and the decline of monarch butterfly populations. These allegations directly contradiction federal agency studies showing that neonicotinoids are not the cause nor a contributor to the problems.

Xerces has been instrumental in obtaining regular coverage for “harmful effects” from the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, and has partnered with a number of high-profile organizations – including Whole Foods and beauty products manufacturer Aveda – in its efforts.

  • Wired magazine ran a 2012 story, “Backyard Pesticide Use May Fuel Bee Die-Offs.” featuring Xerces. “It’s amazing how much research is out there on seed treatments, and in a way that’s distracted everyone from what may be a bigger problem,” said Mace Vaughan, pollinator program director at the Xerces society, an invertebrate conservation group. The vast majority of attention paid to neonicotinoids, the world’s most popular class of pesticides, has focused on their agricultural uses and possible effects. A growing body of research suggests that, even at non-lethal doses, the pesticides can disrupt bee navigation and make them vulnerable to disease and stress.
  • Are Neonicotinoids Killing Bees?” is a Xerces scare-story employing soft words such as “possible” and “can be” in hard statements to give them false certainty: “A possible link between neonicotinoids and honey bee die-offs has led to controversy across the United States and Europe. Beekeepers and environmentalists have expressed growing concern about the impact of neonicotinoids, concern based on the fact that neonicotinoids are absorbed into plant tissue and can be present in pollen and nectar, making them toxic to pollinators.”
  • The Organic Center website ran a 2013 story titled, Xerces Society report details negative effects of neonicotinoids on beneficial insects: “Researchers at the Xerces Society published a report this year detailing the effects of neonicotinoid pesticides on beneficial insects such as bees, lady beetles, and earthworms. The paper, entitled “Beyond the Birds and the Bees,” provides a comprehensive review of the growing body of research on harmful effects that neonicotinoids have on these invertebrates, and makes recommendations on how to protect beneficial insects.” The contents of the paper are the views of the organization and not shared by objective third parties.
  • Protecting Bees from Neonicotinoid Insecticides in Your Garden” Neonicotinoids are a group of insecticides that are used widely on farms, as well as around our homes, schools, and city landscapes. This brochure explains why they are a risk to bees, gives examples of neonicotinoid garden products, and gives some simple tips for protecting bees from these insecticides.

Opposition to Genetically Modified Organisms 

The Xerces Society has recently initiated a new project to protect monarch butterflies, which they consider to be in decline because of widespread use of GMOs, or genetically modified crops. The precise cause of the monarch decline across North America is unknown, but Xerces believes that the declines are due to an increased use of crops genetically modified to be resistant to the herbicide glyphosate (known as “Roundup-Ready” crops), which has led to the loss of milkweed plants from vast areas of the agricultural Midwest.

The Xerces Society, with support from the Monarch Joint Venture, is initiating a project to protect monarchs. “Our goals are to assess the current condition of overwintering sites in California, develop management guidelines for California’s overwintering groves, and review the laws regulating the management of these sites. We are also beginning a project to develop sources of locally native milkweed seed for some Southern and Southwest states that can be used to restore habitat for monarchs.”

In collaboration with the Center for Biological Diversity and the Center for Food Safety, Xerces filed a legal petition with the US Fish and Wildlife Service seeking Endangered Species Act protection for monarch butterflies, claiming that widespread use of “RoundUp-Ready” crops has led to a loss of more than 165 million acres of butterfly habitat.

Interrupting  Research on GMO-Derived Cancer Treatment

Xerces supported a statewide ban on GMO use in Hawaii, under the auspice that genetically modified organisms were harming the fragile native Hawaiian ecosystem. The ensuing ban has led to a drastic economic decline in Hawaii, raising food production 30% following the ban, mostly due to the increased level of regulation, the testing procedures now required under the law, and the law’s affiliated enforcement policies. The ban also interrupted cancer research at the UH Cancer Research Center, as the ban covered organisms being tested for use in the treatment of breast cancer. The Hawaii Attorney General considered the use illegal under the law.