Implementing EPA’s Workplan to Protect Endangered and Threatened Species from Pesticides: Pilot Projects
On this page:
- Pilot projects overview
- Federal mitigation pilot project
- EPA’s vulnerable species pilot project
- EPA's Herbicides Strategy
- Hawaii Strategy
- Insecticide Strategy
In 2021, prompted by the escalating challenges of fulfilling its Endangered Species Act (ESA) obligations for pesticide decisions, EPA began developing a comprehensive, long-term approach to meeting those obligations. Informed by EPA’s past efforts and by its recent discussions with stakeholders, in 2021 EPA began holding a series of internal and external meetings on how the Agency could address its ESA obligations. These included quarterly ESA-FIFRA meetings with stakeholders and a widely attended January 2022 public listening session on improving the ESA-FIFRA process.
In April 2022, EPA released its workplan to address the complexity of meeting its ESA obligations for actions taken under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). This comprehensive workplan establishes four overall strategies and dozens of actions that EPA will adopt, in collaboration with other federal agencies, to improve protection for federally threatened and endangered (listed) species and meet our ESA obligations. In November 2022, EPA released an ESA Workplan Update (pdf) that details how EPA will pursue protections for nontarget species, including listed species, earlier in the process for pesticide registration review and other FIFRA actions.
The ESA Workplan identifies several pilot projects to provide earlier protections for listed species. These pilots include the “Federal Mitigation Pilot Project,” which is a collaboration across federal agencies, and the “EPA Vulnerable Species Pilot Project,” to identify early mitigation for listed species that EPA has determined are particularly vulnerable to pesticide effects. This webpage provides more information on both pilot projects, which focus on protections for specific species to help EPA meet its ESA obligations. See EPA’s workplan for information on other pilot projects that focus on protections for specific pesticides.
This project is a collaboration between EPA, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Together, the agencies are developing approaches for identifying and implementing mitigation to minimize the effects of pesticides on listed species. This project will help federal agencies and stakeholders gain a common understanding of how to reduce exposures to listed species from pesticides by implementing feasible mitigations earlier in the FIFRA registration and registration review processes.
As of November 2022, FWS, NMFS, EPA and USDA have made progress discussing practical, flexible, feasible, and effective measures that are expected to reduce pesticide exposure to the pilot species. EPA has also applied the lessons learned through this collaboration in its ongoing ESA efforts.
For this pilot, FWS and NMFS selected a dozen species, and EPA selected an herbicide, an insecticide, and a fungicide (glyphosate, imidacloprid, and pyraclostrobin, respectively). Each of these pesticides may be used in areas where the pilot species identified by FWS and NMFS are present. FWS and NMFS selected this group of species because it represents a variety of species (e.g., fish, mussels, butterflies) that may live in different habitats and be exposed to pesticides in different ways. Further, several of the species may be particularly vulnerable to pesticides. Most of the listed species in this pilot are FWS species because the agency has jurisdiction over most listed species.
The selected pilot species under FWS jurisdiction are:
- Poweshiek skipperling (Oarisma poweshiek)
- Mitchell’s satyr butterfly (Neonympha mitchellii mitchellii)
- Rusty patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis)
- Topeka shiner (Notropis topeka)
- Prairie bush clover (Lespedeza leptostachya)
- Santa Cruz long-toed salamander (Ambystoma macrodactylum croceum)
- Rayed bean (Villosa fabalis)
- Desert pupfish (Cyprinodon macularius)
- Fat threeridge (Amblema neislerii)
- Gulf moccasinshell (Medionidus penicillatus)
The selected pilot species under NMFS jurisdiction are:
For each pilot species, EPA, FWS, NMFS, and USDA are developing an initial list of suitable mitigation measures to reduce the likelihood of future jeopardy to listed species or adverse modification of their critical habitat. These measures are also intended to minimize harmful effects (“take”) from glyphosate, imidacloprid, and pyraclostrobin. The initial list of mitigations will be based on existing mitigation measures that FWS and NMFS have developed, conservation actions in recovery plans, typical best practices for pesticides, and other conservation actions in listed species documents (e.g., 5-year status review, species status assessment). This list of mitigations will reflect input from conservation and agriculture experts, such as NMFS and FWS biologists, grower groups, professional crop consultants, pesticide registrants, and USDA scientists.
Based on this input, the four agencies will develop a list of suitable mitigation measures aimed at reducing the effects of the three pilot pesticides on the 12 species. When determining which mitigations to include, the agencies plan to consider:
- Feasible measures to avoid and minimize pesticide exposure to species with consideration of the impact on pesticide users and their existing pest control practices.
- Whether compensatory mitigation measures (offsets) are an option to protect or rehabilitate species populations and their habitat and, if so, which offset measures are most effective.
- Areas to prioritize mitigations.
- How long the effectiveness of different mitigations will last.
- Any monitoring to assess the effectiveness of the mitigation.
EPA had planned to begin public outreach on identified mitigations with states, pesticide users, pesticide registrants, conservation organizations, and other stakeholders in fall 2022. However, there are several opportunities for public comment related to how EPA is implementing the workplan planned through calendar year 2022, including registration review pilots on methomyl, carbaryl, and rodenticides. These pilots are described in EPA’s ESA Workplan and are intended to help stakeholders better understand EPA’s ESA analyses and see how EPA identifies and proposes mitigations for a small number of species. EPA’s ESA Workplan Update also describes several opportunities for public comment. After EPA receives comments on these various actions, the agencies will determine the next steps for the federal pilot.
Through EPA’s Vulnerable Species Pilot (VSP), the Agency will identify certain vulnerable listed species, identify mitigations to protect them from pesticide exposure, and then implement these mitigations across different types of pesticides (e.g., herbicides, insecticides). This project will focus on implementing protections for multiple pesticides within a group to protect a particular species. This effort is intended to ensure that EPA begins to adopt meaningful protections for species likely to be affected by pesticide use by incorporating mitigations into applicable registration and registration review decisions, even if consultation with the FWS and NMFS has not been completed or even begun.
EPA identified the pilot species listed below using documentation from the Services (e.g., 5-year reviews, biological opinions) and spatial data for ranges. These data are on the FWS webpages accessible by clicking the species links. For the species that EPA identified for this pilot, FWS concluded that they have high or medium vulnerability to all relevant stressors and indicated that pesticides may be a potential stressor for the species. These pilot species also generally have smaller ranges relative to other listed species, and many of their ranges or critical habitats overlap with those of other listed species. Therefore, protections for these species would benefit other listed species. As described in the updates section below, EPA expects to revisit the list of species included in the pilot in light of public comments and EPA’s other ongoing endangered species strategy work.
The initial set of priority species includes:
- Group of plant species in Lake Wales Ridge area of Florida (including Avon park harebells (Crotalaria avonensis), Garrett’s mint (Dicerandra christmanii), wireweed (Polygonella basiramea), scrub blazingstar (Liatris ohlingerae), short-leaved rosemary (Conradina brevifolia), scrub mint (Dicerandra frutescens), Florida ziziphus (Ziziphus celata), and several other species that occur in this area)
- Leedy’s roseroot (Rhodiola integrifolia ssp. leedyi)
- Mead’s milkweed (Asclepias meadii)
- Okeechobee gourd (Cucurbita okeechobeensis ssp. okeechobeensis)
- Palmate-bracted bird’s beak (Cordylanthus palmatus)
- White bluffs bladderpod (Physaria douglasii ssp. tuplashensis)
- Madison cave isopod (Antrolana lira)
- Ouachita rock pocketbook (Arkansia wheeleri)
- Rayed bean (Villosa fabalis; freshwater mussel)
- Scaleshell mussel (Leptodea leptodon)
- Winged mapleleaf (Quadrula fragosa)
- Riverside fairy shrimp (Streptocephalus woottoni) and San diego fairy shrimp (Branchinecta sandiegonensis)
- American burying beetle (Nicrophorus americanus)
- Poweshiek skipperling (Oarisma poweshiek)
- Rusty patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis)
- Taylor’s checkerspot (Euphydryas editha taylori)
- Ozark cavefish (Amblyopsis rosae)
- Attwater’s prairie chicken (Tympanuchus cupido attwateri)
- Buena vista lake ornate shrew (Sorex ornatus relictus)
- Wyoming toad (Bufo hemiophrys baxteri)
For each vulnerable species identified for the pilot, EPA has developed a draft list of recommended pesticide mitigations for groups of pesticides. Draft mitigations include:
- Measures to minimize pesticide exposure to the species’ habitats.
- Draft measures include use of equipment or practices that reduce spray drift (e.g., nozzles that produce larger spray droplets or reduce the amount of small droplets, use of swath offsets), no-spray buffers, or enhanced warning label language to limit drift onto species ranges.
- Draft measures also include use of field conservation practices to reduce pesticide runoff.
- Measures to avoid pesticide exposure when and where it is needed to protect a species.
- Draft measures may include prohibiting pesticide applications within all or part of the range and/or critical habitat of a species.
In developing draft mitigations for entire classes of pesticides, such as a group of insecticides, herbicides, or fungicides, EPA will generally focus on the pesticides within the class that have the greatest potential for effects to the listed species of interest.
Expanding beyond the Pilot
The species included in this pilot represent an initial set of species. In June 2023, EPA released a draft plan to expand the VSP to include additional species based on lessons learned from incorporating mitigation measures for the initial pilot species. EPA will consider similarities and differences among species when determining which mitigation measures are relevant to additional species. For example, EPA may consider whether the mitigation measures developed for the pilot species apply to others in the same area (e.g., multiple mussels in the same river). EPA expects to make a final determination by fall 2024 on whether and how it could expand the approach used in the VSP to other selected vulnerable species.
StoryMaps for the Vulnerable Species Project
EPA has published a group of StoryMaps to raise public awareness about protecting endangered species from pesticides. These StoryMaps use an interactive format to describe the 27 pilot endangered and threatened (listed) species, their habitats, and why they are vulnerable from pesticide exposure. These StoryMaps offer the unique ability to convey geospatial information about the location of these species and the protections proposed as part of the vulnerable species pilot. For example, users can zoom into on the maps to view specific locations that may be of interest (e.g., where pesticide protections are proposed to apply).
The pesticide use limitation areas (PULAs) identified on the StoryMaps reflect the draft PULAs from June 2023. As part of the ongoing work incorporating public comments noted in the updates section below, EPA is currently working with partners to evaluate approaches to refine the PULAs to identify specific locations where pesticide mitigations would apply while minimizing impacts to pesticide users.
Nov. 2023 Update Based on Public Comments Submitted on Draft White Paper
On November 21, 2023, EPA released an update to the VSP to help the public better understand the status of this initiative. EPA provided a 45-day public comment period on the draft white paper and the associated technical document and received more than 10,000 comments from a diverse set of groups. Approximately 200 of these were unique comments, with the remainder being a mail-in campaign in support of the VSP. EPA has been evaluating the public comments and determining next steps. The Agency expects to make some revisions to the VSP framework based on the public comments, which will also inform how EPA implements the VSP. The following summarizes EPA’s current thinking on revisions to the VSP framework:
- Narrow the areas within the endangered species range map to only include locations that are important to conserving a species;
- Clarify the scope of the VSP for non-agricultural uses;
- Clarify potential exemptions to the proposed mitigation and whether additional exemptions are needed;
- Revise some of the proposed mitigation and include additional mitigation options specific to non-agricultural uses and specialty crops;
- Revisit how EPA selected the pilot vulnerable species; and
- Develop a consistent approach to reduce pesticide exposure to listed species from spray drift and run-off.
The update provides additional details on the major themes in the public comments and potential changes to proposed mitigations. The VSP itself does not change any individual pesticide mitigation measure because it is only a framework for how the Agency intends to include those measures as part of its registration and registration review processes (which also offer opportunities for stakeholder input). EPA recognizes that the VSP proposal represents a new approach, which has and will continue to benefit from stakeholder engagement. EPA appreciates the thoughtful comments from multiple stakeholders on the proposed VSP and other ESA efforts. EPA issued the update to be responsive to the public comments and to communicate EPA’s current thinking on addressing public comments. EPA continues to consider the public comments, meet with stakeholders, and collaborate with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and state agencies. By fall 2024, EPA intends to provide additional updates on the VSP.
EPA held a public webinar hosted by USDA in July 2023 that described the vulnerable species pilot and answered a number of questions from participants. The webinar recording is now available here.
The webinar slides can be found here Vulnerable Species Pilot Project (pdf) .
The Herbicide Strategy is primarily designed to provide early mitigations that minimize impacts to over 900 federal endangered and threatened (listed) species and designated critical habitat for conventional herbicides used in agriculture, before completing effects determinations and, where necessary, consultation under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). EPA focused the Herbicide 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, which is substantially more than for non-agricultural uses of herbicides and for other pesticide classes (e.g., insecticides, fungicides). Additionally, hundreds of listed species in the lower 48 states live in habitats adjacent to agriculture. The mitigations in the Herbicide Strategy would address the most common ways that conventional agricultural herbicides impact these listed species.
EPA expects the mitigations in the Herbicide Strategy will reduce the likelihood of future “jeopardy” or “adverse modification” (J/AM) findings and minimize the potential for “take” from the ongoing use of these herbicides. EPA also expects that the Herbicide Strategy will ultimately increase the efficiency of future ESA pesticide consultations on herbicides with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (which has authority over most listed species that could benefit from these mitigations). As discussed below, EPA is releasing a draft Herbicide Strategy that describes the proposed early mitigations for public comment.
The Draft Herbicide Strategy
The draft Herbicide Strategy consists of a draft herbicide framework for the Strategy document and other supporting documents. The draft framework document includes a discussion of:
- The proposed scope of the Herbicide Strategy;
- The proposed decision framework to determine the need for and level of mitigation that would apply for a particular conventional agricultural herbicide;
- Examples of how the proposed herbicide mitigation would apply to some of the herbicides for which EPA conducted case studies; and
- EPA’s proposed implementation plan.
EPA developed the proposed mitigation options for conventional agricultural herbicides to reduce pesticide transport via spray drift and runoff/erosion that could result in exposure to listed plants and to listed animals that depend on plants.
The draft Herbicide Strategy describes an efficient approach to determining the need for, the level of, and geographic extent of early mitigations for listed species from agricultural uses of conventional herbicides. The proposed mitigations reflect mitigation measures that can be readily implemented by growers and identified by pesticide applicators and are structured to provide flexibility for growers to choose mitigations that work best for their situation while still ensuring protections for listed species.
The draft Herbicide Strategy also describes EPA’s current thinking on how the Agency could add other mitigation practices to the menu of mitigation options available to growers in the future, particularly to incorporate emerging technology or new information on the effectiveness of specific practices.
Seeking Public Comment on the Draft Herbicide Strategy
EPA is currently seeking public comments on the draft Herbicide Strategy and proposed mitigations. EPA posted a draft strategy framework and supporting documents to EPA-HQ-OPP-2023-0365 in July 2023. Additional details on the draft Herbicide Strategy and mitigation proposals are available in the supporting documents. The comment period closed on October 22, 2023. EPA is currently evaluating the comments it received during the public comment period. EPA plans to issue a final herbicide strategy in early 2024, after considering feedback from the pubic, our federal partners, and other stakeholders.
As described in the EPA’s ESA Workplan update, EPA is exploring mitigation measures to address the effects of pesticides on federally threatened and endangered (listed) species on a geographic basis and further EPA’s ESA obligations. The Hawaii Strategy is one way the Agency expects to create significant efficiencies. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has jurisdiction over approximately 1,600 species and hundreds of critical habitats. Of these species, approximately 40% are in Hawaii. As a result, when EPA conducts ESA analyses for pesticides with use or proposed use in Hawaii, the workload associated with these uses is significant. At the same time, there are important pesticide needs in Hawaii, including to remove invasive species, which benefits listed species.
EPA and FWS can greatly increase the efficiency of future ESA pesticide section 7 consultations by evaluating Hawaiian species and pesticide actions using a broad approach that protects listed species and critical habitats across all of Hawaii rather than pesticide-by-pesticide or species-by-species. Completing this upfront work would also allow EPA to give pesticide users more certainty about the ability to continue using pesticides in Hawaii and to begin protecting species quicker rather than waiting for the completion of individual pesticide consultations.
To facilitate the development of these mitigations and solicitate stakeholder feedback, EPA, with FWS, is convening an invitation-only workshop in Hawaii in March 2024 (see the Agenda for Hawaii Strategy and Workshop (pdf) ) as part of an initiative to streamline the pesticide consultation process for listed species in Hawaii.
Informed by initial stakeholder outreach prior to the workshop, EPA, in coordination with FWS, would identify draft mitigations to protect listed species and critical habitats and a decision framework to determine the level of mitigation needed to reduce potential impacts from pesticide uses in Hawaii. When finalized, EPA would use this strategy and framework to inform the ESA mitigation requirements in pesticide registration and re-registration decisions.
The workshop allows Hawaii state agencies and stakeholders to help EPA protect Hawaiian listed species from pesticides in ways that are practical for pesticide users. A major part of the workshop is for EPA and FWS to verify the accuracy of the information gathered to date on pesticide uses in Hawaii, their application methods, current mitigation, best management practices, and conservation approaches employed in Hawaii to minimize pesticide exposure to listed species. The workshop will also offer participants the opportunity to provide individual feedback to the agencies if they believe the draft strategy and decision framework needs to be further tailored to the unique circumstances in Hawaii and help the agencies fill knowledge gaps through in-person discussions. At the workshop, EPA and FWS will also provide information they have gathered to date on the conservation approaches and mitigation measures.
Similar to the EPA’s Herbicide Strategy, the Insecticide Strategy is designed to identify early mitigations before the Agency completes effects determinations to reduce potential impacts to federally endangered and threatened (listed) species and their designated critical habitat from the agricultural use of conventional insecticides while helping to ensure the continued availability of these important pesticide tools. As part of this strategy, EPA is developing a framework to assess potential impacts of specific insecticides to listed aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates as well as impacts to those listed species that rely on aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates as prey or for pollination services and identify any needed mitigations. The Insecticide Strategy itself would not impose any requirements on pesticide users and it is not a rulemaking action. The Insecticide Strategy represents a framework that EPA expects would inform the existing mechanisms EPA uses to register and re-register pesticides. In addition, EPA expects that the Strategy would increase the efficiency of future ESA consultations on insecticides with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), which has authority over most listed species that could benefit from the Strategy.
The Insecticide Strategy would leverage the work done on initial mitigations proposed by earlier strategies, such as the Herbicide Strategy and the Vulnerable Species Project, to establish a framework to identify the need for, level of, and extent of mitigation and how those identified mitigations would reduce impacts to listed species. The Insecticide Strategy will demonstrate this process through case studies focused on agricultural uses and will include representative insecticides which encompass a range of different insecticide classes and modes of action, as well as consideration of pesticide usage, target pests, and how the insecticide moves in the environment. However, given that several listed and non-listed terrestrial invertebrates are expected to be attracted to certain on-field agriculture crops, the Insecticide Strategy would evaluate potential effects and mitigations on the field, which the Herbicide Strategy did not consider.
The draft Insecticide Strategy, which consists of a draft insecticide framework for the strategy document and other supporting documents, will be posted for public comment by July 2024.