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EPA outlines approaches for Endangered Species Act Pesticide Policies

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

During a presentation to the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture on Feb. 7, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Assistant Administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention Michal Freedhoff described a series of steps the EPA intends to take to comply with the Endangered Species Act (ESA) when it comes to pesticide use.

“Protecting endangered species and ensuring we have a safe and abundant food supply can go hand in hand,” said Freedhoff. “The steps we’re announcing today are designed to meet this dual obligation of providing the agricultural community with the tools and flexibility they need, while ensuring pesticides aren’t harming endangered species.”

Next steps

Freedhoff explained when registering pesticides under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), EPA must also comply with the ESA to ensure pesticides do not harm endangered species or their critical habitats. 

She noted, “This has resulted in considerable litigation against the agency, creating uncertainty for farmers and other pesticide users, unnecessary expenses and inefficiencies for EPA and delays in the protection of endangered species.” 

Freedhoff told state agriculture officials in April 2022, the EPA released its ESA Workplan, establishing strategies to adopt those protections while ensuring farmers, public health authorities and others have access to pesticides. 

In addition to other actions, EPA proposed a vulnerable species pilot and draft herbicide strategy in 2023. Stakeholders have expressed concerns related to the implementation ability of these strategies and urged EPA to make needed adjustments before finalizing the approaches, she pointed out.

“Today, EPA announced its plans to address key concerns, expand its partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and seek additional stakeholder engagement in coming months as it continues to address this decades-old challenge of protecting endangered species from pesticide exposure,” Freedhoff stated.

Freedhoff continued, “The EPA will not implement Vulnerable Species Pilot Protections, an effort to protect species particularly vulnerable to pesticides, until a more refined map of its habitat is developed.” 

Offering support

“EPA will work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), USDA, the University of Georgia and other stakeholders to develop maps that better reflect where these species live and where protections from pesticides are needed,” Freedhoff explained.

In April, the EPA plans to hold a workshop to facilitate and prioritize the development of these maps, and the agency will also develop guidelines the public can use to develop and submit refined maps for hundreds of other endangered species.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) helps farmers carry out voluntary practices to improve environmental health and quality, many of which also reduce pesticide drift and runoff, which could benefit endangered species.

“The EPA signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the NRCS, describing how both agencies can blend conservation practices on pesticide labels as one way growers who voluntarily perform those practices can use them to help fulfill pesticide label requirements,” she explained. 

Regarding the MOU, USDA Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation Robert Bonnie stated, “Farmers who use strong conservation practices developed by NRCS should be given credit for all of the benefits these practices provide, including reducing the off-site movement of pesticides.”

“NRCS’s programs remain entirely voluntary and producers will not need NRCS approval. Collaboration between USDA and EPA through efforts such as this MOU and additional stakeholder conversations will help to keep safe, effective pest management tools in farmers’ hands,” Bonnie added.

A work in progress

Currently, if EPA needs to add new mitigations to pesticide labels, the agency must update hundreds or thousands of paper labels every time the menu of mitigation options is expanded, a process which can take years, Freedhoff expressed.

The EPA will launch its first online mitigation menu which will allow the agency to quickly add new mitigation measures options, “thus ensuring growers can use those new options promptly.”

While concluding her speech, Freedhoff announced the EPA is working with stakeholders to determine how to use “offsets” when avoiding or minimizing pesticide exposure to an endangered species. 

In those situations, she confirmed, “It may be possible to offset the impact to the species through activities like funding habitat restoration for the species, contributing to a captive rearing project at a zoo for the species or other steps to conserve the species.” 

EPA, other federal agencies and stakeholders are participating in a workshop later this month to discuss how to bring offsets into EPA’s ESA-FIFRA work.

“This initiative should give pesticide registrants and users more flexibility to meet label requirements to protect endangered species, while directly contributing to recovering those species,” she concluded.

Melissa Anderson is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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