The US government has rolled back a number of Obama-era restrictions on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides linked to harming bee populations and the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops in national wildlife refuges.

The USA allowed limited agricultural activity in some nature refuges, including cooperative agreements that allowed farmers to grow certain crops to improve food production or wildlife habitats, wrote Reuters on 4 August.

However, the planting of GM crops – such as soyabeans or corn – was prohibited, alongside the use of neonicotinoid pesticides that research has linked to the declining wild bee populations.

Now, the US Fish and Wildlide Service had rescinded the blanket ban on the use of both GM crops and neonicotinoids, with decisions to be made on a case-by-case basis.

Fish and Wildlife Service deputy director Greg Sheehan said the move was needed to ensure adequate forage for migratory birds and that GM crops had helped “maximise production” and neonicotinoids might be needed to “fulfill needed farming practices”.

Environmentalists decried the decision as a threat to pollinating insects and sensitive wildlife refuge ecosystems.

“Industrial agriculture has no place on refuges dedicated to wildlife conservation and protection of some of the most vital and vulnerable species,” said Jenny Keatings, federal lands policy analyst for environmental groups Defenders of Wildlife.

The decision marked the latest move in a series of Donald Trump administration reversals of environmental policies enacted under the previous president Barack Obama.