The strategy aims to increase efficiency by supporting farmers and herbicide users with the continued availability of useful herbicide tools.
Washington – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today released its Herbicide Strategy for public comment, a major milestone in its efforts to protect federally endangered and threatened (listed) species from conventional agricultural herbicides. The strategy identifies early mitigation strategies for more than 900 listed species and critical habitats to reduce the potential impacts of agricultural use of these herbicides, and helps ensure the continued availability of these important herbicides.
“Ensuring the safe use of herbicides is an important part of EPA’s mission to protect the environment,” he said Jake Lee, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Pesticide Programs for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. “This strategy reflects our biggest steps to support farmers and other herbicide users with tools to control weeds, while accelerating the protection of many endangered species living near agricultural areas.”
Today’s strategy is part of EPA’s ongoing effort to develop a multichemical, multidisciplinary approach to meeting its obligations under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). EPA’s traditional chemical-by-chemical, species-by-species approach to meeting these obligations is slow and costly. As a result, the EPA completes its ESA mandate in less than 5% of its operations, creating legal vulnerabilities for the agency and the uncertainty of whether farmers and other pesticide users will be able to use more pesticides. The strategy—designed primarily to provide early mitigation that minimizes impacts on more than 900 listed species—is one of EPA’s most important proposals for overcoming these challenges.
EPA focused its strategy on agricultural crop uses in the lower 48 states because hundreds of millions of pounds of herbicides (and plant growth regulators) are applied each year, more than for non-agricultural herbicides and other classes of pesticides (eg, insecticides, fungicides). Additionally, hundreds of listed species in the lower 48 states live in areas associated with agricultural areas. The reductions proposed in the strategy address the most common ways in which common agricultural herbicides affect these listed species.
EPA expects the strategy to increase the effectiveness of future consultations with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) on herbicides. Under the strategy, EPA proposes to identify and mitigate potential impacts even before completing the ESA consultation. These early mitigations should reduce impacts on listed species before EPA conducts the bulk of the ESA analysis and accelerate EPA’s ability to fully comply with the ESA. Early adoption of reductions allows EPA and FWS to use their resources more effectively in ESA consultation.
The strategy’s mitigations are easily implementable by arborists and reflect the conditions identified by pesticide markers, allowing growers to choose the mitigations that work best for them. The strategy rewards landowners who take specific steps to reduce pesticide runoff. For example, existing garden wells and water retention ponds may qualify for credits that reduce the need for additional abatement. Similarly, the strategy requires less reduction in flatlands, areas less exposed to rainfall and in many western states where there is less rainfall for pesticide uptake. The strategy also describes how the agency may add other mitigation practices to its menu of mitigation options in the future, particularly to incorporate emerging technologies or new information on the effectiveness of certain practices.
Herbicide Framework Document
The draft framework document includes both an herbicide strategy and a proposed decision-making framework for determining mitigation levels for conventional agricultural herbicides. The draft framework document also includes examples of how herbicide reductions can be applied to certain herbicides and EPA’s proposed implementation plan.
The draft herbicide framework and accompanying documents are available in the document EPA-HQ-OPP-2023-0365 60 days for public comment.
In the ESA Work Plan and the ESA Work Plan Update, EPA has outlined this and other ESA initiatives and developed preventive actions to protect listed species from pesticides. The strategy complements those other initiatives, such as specific pesticides and temporary ecological reductions for listed species that EPA is beginning to include in the federal Pesticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. The draft framework describes how EPA will implement the reductions in the strategy compared to reductions in other initiatives.
To learn more about how EPA’s pesticide program protects endangered species, visit EPA’s website.