103 Groups Ask FWS to Restrict Pesticide Use in Critical Habitats

More than 100 organizations, led by the Center for Biological Diversity, sent a letter Friday to the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) asking them to reduce pesticide use in areas designated as critical habitats for endangered species. The letter asked the DOI and FWS to step in because, it alleged, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is not doing enough. 

“Pesticides are, right at this moment, jeopardizing the continued existence of many of the plants and animals protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Despite over a decade of sustained advocacy and litigation by many environmental organizations, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has skirted its Section 7 consultation obligations under the ESA and failed to implement on-the-ground conservation measures to protect threatened and endangered species from deadly pesticides,” the letter began. 

The groups asked the FWS to use its authority through the ESA to restrict the use of pesticides in order to protect endangered plants and animals because the EPA purportedly is not fulfilling its responsibilities under the ESA. Further, they asked that all pesticides not be used in critical habitats until either the EPA “meets its obligations under the ESA” or a specific pesticide is found to not cause harm to the habitats. Reportedly, over 1 billion pounds of various pesticides are used in the United States yearly, some in areas designated as critical habitats. 

The letter cited studies from the National Marine Fisheries Service and FWS that determined that three pesticides — chlorpyrifos, malathion, and diazinon — together jeopardized the existence of thousands of species. The letter claimed, however, that this “is just the tip of the iceberg” because the EPA has registered 18,000 pesticide products with more than 1,000 different active ingredients without considering the ESA.

The groups cited that the ESA directs federal agencies to “prevent extinction at ‘whatever the cost’” and that the FWS has a duty to protect endangered species and their habitats. “A prohibition on the use of pesticides in critical habitat is needed now to effectuate Congress’s intent, because the EPA’s continued refusal to comply with the ESA directly undermines the FWS’s vital work of protecting listed species from extinction,” the letter said. 

In the letter, the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups claimed that restricting the use of pesticides in designated critical habitats is “the single most effective action” that the FWS can take immediately to keep pesticides from causing extinction. They asked the FWS and DOI to intervene as soon as possible. 

According to the Center for Food Safety press release, the same organizations sent two other letters with similar goals on the same day. One asked for pesticides to not be used on national wildlife refuges, and the other asked that the DOI and FWS do scientific review on the harms of pesticides to protected species. 

“No nation uses more pesticides more recklessly than the U.S., with some of the worst abuses in our most important wildlife habitats,” Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in the press release. “To stop the heartbreak of animals and plants going extinct, the Fish and Wildlife Service needs to give endangered species a respite from toxic chemicals. We’re offering common-sense measures that would go a long way toward halting extinction trends.”