Expert Report

Assessing Risks to Endangered and Threatened Species from Pesticides (2013)

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When determining the potential effects pesticides could pose to endangered or threatened species, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) should use a common scientific approach, this report finds. Specifically, the agencies should use a risk-assessment approach that contains problem formulation, exposure analysis, effects analysis, and risk characterization.

Under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), before a pesticide can be sold, distributed, or used in the United States, EPA must ensure that it does not cause unreasonable adverse effects on the environment, which includes species that are listed as endangered or threatened and their habitats. The U.S. Endangered Species Act requires federal agencies, including EPA, to consult with FWS and NMFS when a federal action "may affect" a listed species or its habitat. If EPA determines that a pesticide is "not likely to adversely affect" a listed species, and FWS or NMFS agrees, no further consultation is required. However, if EPA determines that a pesticide is "likely to adversely affect" a listed species, a formal consultation with FWS or NMFS is required, and FWS or NMFS determines whether a proposed action is likely to jeopardize the listed species and issues a biological opinion.

Over the last decade, questions have been raised regarding the best approaches or methods for determining the risks pesticides pose to listed species and their habitats. EPA, FWS, and NMFS have developed their own approaches to evaluating environmental risks because their legal mandates, responsibilities, institutional cultures, and expertise differ. Although the agencies have tried to resolve their differences in assessment approaches, they have been unsuccessful at reaching a consensus. This report examines the scientific and technical issues related to determining risks posed to listed species by pesticides.