WESTMINSTER, Colorado – April 4, 2023 – The U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is developing an updated Endangered Species Act (ESA) Workplan that addresses how the agency can protect nearly 1,700 threatened and endangered species and their critical habitats while governing the registration, distribution, sale and use of pesticides. The Weed Science Society of America (WSSA) and its affiliates encourage growers and land managers to educate themselves immediately on the EPA’s Workplan and the changes they likely will need to make to assure compliance.
To comply with the Endangered Species Act (ESA), EPA will evaluate the potential effects of pesticides on federally threatened or endangered species and their critical habitats and then recommend mitigation strategies developed in partnership with other federal agencies.
Examples include requirements for vegetative filter strips, field borders and grassed waterways, terracing, contour farming, cover cropping, mulching, the adoption of no tillage or reduced tillage strategies, and the safe disposal of excess seed that has been treated with pesticides. Once finalized, such protections will become part of the formal registration review process for various geographic regions and for various groups of herbicides, insecticides and fungicides.
“The EPA’s recent reregistration of the Enlist One and Enlist Duo herbicides provides a preview of what’s in store,” says Bill Chism, Ph.D., WSSA’s ESA committee chair. “The updated product labels include new application timing requirements designed to reduce runoff, leaching, spray drift and other off-target impacts on threatened and endangered species and their critical habitats. In addition, the products can no longer be used in certain counties.”
The WSSA and it five affiliates – the Aquatic Plant Management Society, North Central Weed Science Society, Northeastern Weed Science Society, Southern Weed Science Society and Western Society of Weed Science – have submitted a joint response to the EPA’s call for public comments on the ESA workplan update. Selected highlights from that response are below:
- The organizations suggest that broader adoption of new agricultural technologies could support the EPA’s objectives and reduce total herbicide use. Examples include steam weeding, electrical weeding, unmanned drones, vision-guided systems for targeted precision spraying, and harvesters that can destroy weed seeds. In addition, hooded sprayers can reduce the risk of spray drift.
- The EPA plans to post detailed application instructions online, rather than relying solely on the printed product label. A 2021 USDA survey, though, shows only 67% of farms own or use computers and only 77% own or use a smartphone. “It is clear one size doesn’t fit all,” Chism says. “Multiple outreach channels and carefully tailored strategies will be needed to ensure the new requirements are successful at the local level.”
- The organizations recommend that EPA use greater granularity when it comes to defining areas where certain pesticides are prohibited. One example: Enlist Duo was banned in 11 counties in southern Georgia to protect two species of endangered salamander that prefer moist woodland habitats.
“After an in-depth evaluation at the field level, we are finding little overlap of agricultural fields and the salamander or its critical habitat,” says Stanley Culpepper, Ph.D., of the University of Georgia and current WSSA past-president.
Culpepper says these findings point to the importance of working closely with regulatory partners to improve the process. “Removing critical tools from farmers on a county-level basis or inserting infield buffer restrictions can threaten the sustainability of family farms – highlighting the importance of making sure sound science is available when making ESA regulatory decisions,” he says.
Bill Chism urges growers and land managers to become familiar with the EPA’s updated workplan and with how to access important application instructions online through EPA’s Bulletins Live! Two. “Most importantly, be prepared to incorporate any mitigation strategies required by EPA,” he says.
WSSA and its affiliates have posted their full response to the EPA workplan online at the WSSA website.
About the Weed Science Society of America
The Weed Science Society of America, a nonprofit scientific society, was founded in 1956 to encourage and promote the development of knowledge concerning weeds and their impact on the environment. The Society promotes research, education and extension outreach activities related to weeds, provides science-based information to the public and policy makers, fosters awareness of weeds and their impact on managed and natural ecosystems, and promotes cooperation among weed science organizations across the nation and around the world. For more information, visit www.wssa.net.
Lee Van Wychen
Executive Director of Science Policy
National & Regional Weed Science Societies