EPA Proposes Draft Herbicide Strategy Framework for Federally Listed Species

EPA Proposes Draft Herbicide Strategy Framework for Federally Listed Species

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently released a draft Herbicide Strategy (Strategy) that focuses on developing and implementing early protections for more than 900 federally threatened and endangered species in 48 states. The Strategy covers conventional herbicides – an important, widely used tool that growers use to prevent or eliminate weeds that would otherwise compete for light, moisture, and nutrients with the crops, affecting the quality and quantity of produce. The draft Strategy, released at the end of July, is part of EPA’s ongoing efforts to develop a multichemical, multispecies approach to meeting its obligations under the Endangered Species Act (ESA); the EPA recently extended the comment period to October 22.

When the EPA registers a pesticide or reevaluates it in registration review under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), the Agency has a responsibility under the ESA to ensure that the pesticide registrations do not jeopardize the continued existence of federally threatened or endangered (listed) species or adversely modify their designated critical habitats. Chemical stressors, such as pesticides, are one of many factors that can contribute to population declines of listed species.

Meeting this ESA responsibility is a formidable task, considering the tens of thousands of pesticide products and amendments that require EPA to review potential effects for over 1,700 U.S. listed species. EPA’s traditional chemical-by-chemical, species-by-species approach to meeting these obligations was slow and costly. As a result, EPA has completed its ESA obligations for less than 5% of its actions, creating legal vulnerabilities for the Agency, increased litigation, and uncertainty for farmers and other pesticide users about their continued ability to use many pesticides.

The proposed Strategy is a key step forward for EPA in implementing early protections for listed species and increasing the efficiency of meeting its ESA obligations. This proposed Strategy, once finalized, would provide early protections for over 900 listed species and their critical habitats from agricultural uses of conventional herbicides in the lower 48 states. The mitigations proposed by the Strategy would address potential impacts to the group of species (plants and species that depend on plants) likely to be most sensitive to herbicides, and would thus, likely reduce the potential for population-level impacts to the over 900 listed species in the lower 48 states from herbicide use.

In addition to this Herbicide Strategy Framework, EPA is releasing multiple supporting documents including a draft Technical Support for Runoff, Erosion, and Spray Drift Mitigation to Protect Non-Target Plants and Wildlife with supporting information on potential mitigation measures EPA identified to date and for which EPA has data on their efficacy in reducing exposure.

The Agency welcomes stakeholder feedback on the proposed Strategy and the supporting documents. The comment period on EPA’s proposed herbicide regulations was extended to close on October 22, 2023.

October 16, 2023