Ecological Services


". . . synthetic pesticides have been so thoroughly distributed throughout the animate and inanimate world that they occur virtually everywhere. They have been recovered from most of the major river systems and even from streams of groundwater flowing unseen through the earth. Residues of these chemicals linger in soil to which they may have been applied a dozen years before. . . They have been found in fish in remote mountain lakes, in earthworms burrowing in soil, in the eggs of birds--and in man himself."
- Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

Pollution is one of the American public's greatest environmental concerns. Like the proverbial "canary in the coal mine," fish and wildlife often signal pollution problems that ultimately affect people and their quality of life. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is the main federal agency dedicated to protecting wildlife and their habitat from pollution's harmful effects, helping to create a healthy world for all living things.


Contaminants Prevention. Contaminants specialists review environmental documents, legislation, regulations, and permits and licenses with pollution potential to ensure that harmful effects on fish, wildlife, and plants are avoided or minimized. Some examples include:

  • analysis of documents and permits related to control of nonpoint source pollution from agriculture and urban runoff, point source pollution from industrial and municipal waste treatment facilities, and discharges of dredge and fill material;
  • review of proposed Federal projects related to mining, agricultural irrigation, range management, and oil and gas development to ensure that habitat quality concerns are adequately addressed;
  • review of EPA pesticide registration proposals to ensure that potential impacts to fish and wildlife are considered; and,
  • review of pesticide use on FWS lands to ensure these chemicals are properly applied and, in some cases, to recommend the use of acceptable alternatives.

Contaminants Identification and Assessment. Service environmental contaminant specialists conduct field studies to determine sources of pollution, to investigate pollution effects on fish and wildlife and their habitat, and to investigate fish and wildlife die-offs. Sites typically assessed include those impacted by pesticides, industrial wastes, oil and hazardous waste spills, and drain water from agricultural irrigation and mining, as well as Superfund sites and other sites contaminated at some time in the past. Contaminants specialists have also developed tools such as the Contaminants Assessment Process (CAP), which was developed in cooperation with the US Geological Survey's Status and Trends of Biological Resources Program to assist in evaluating contaminant threats to national wildlife refuges, as well as other Service lands. In addition, field specialists conduct contaminant surveys prior to the Service buying new lands.

Contaminant Cleanup and Resource Restoration. Data collected in contaminant assessments is often used to secure compensation for resources lost or degraded by hazardous waste releases or spills. These efforts are part of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration Program (Restoration Program). The Service also takes part, through contaminants identification, assessment, planning and restoration, in the Department of Interior's National Irrigation Water Quality Program (NIWQP). Contaminant specialist are often called in by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), US Coast Guard, or various other Federal or State agencies responsible for cleaning up a contaminated area, to ensure that fish and wildlife and their habitat are adequately protected during, and upon completion of, the cleanup. Contaminants specialists also work closely with National Wildlife Refuge managers to design and implement actions to cleanup oil and hazardous material on refuge lands.

Technical Support. Training field office staff, analyzing contaminant samples, and managing information are all key to the Contaminants Program's success. A large part of the Program's technical support comes from the Analytical Control Facility (ACF), part of the National Conservation Training Center in Sheperdstown, West Virginia. Staff at ACF are responsible for such things as overseeing all Service chemical analysis and managing the Environmental Contaminants Data Management System. This system is designed to electronically store, analyze, and create reports on the vast amount of analytical information obtained from fish and wildlife tissue samples collected by FWS biologists.

Last updated: April 23, 2013