Pesticides and Wildlife

The use of pesticides can negatively impact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (Service) trust resources, including fisheries resources, threatened and endangered species, migratory birds and their habitats. Pesticides include products, such as insect repellants, weed killers, disinfectants and swimming pool chemicals, which are designed to prevent, destroy, repel or reduce pests such as insects, mice and other animals, weeds, fungi, bacteria and viruses. Pesticides are used in nearly every home, business, farm, school, hospital and park in the United States and are found almost everywhere in our environment.

Pesticide Facts:

  • In recent studies of major rivers and streams, one or more pesticides were detected more than 90% of the time in water, in more than 80% of fish sampled, and in 33% of major aquifers (Gilliom, Robert).
  • Pesticides are one of the 15 leading causes of impairment for streams included on States' Clean Water Act section 303(d) lists of impaired waters.
  • Pesticides have also been identified as a potential cause of amphibian declines and deformities.
  • Pesticides are one of the potential causes pollinator species' declines and declines of other beneficial insects.

By their very nature, most pesticides pose some risk of harm to humans, animals or the environment because they are designed to kill or adversely affect living organisms. Significant fish and bird kills have resulted from the legal application of pesticides, with millions of fish and birds estimated to die from pesticide exposure each year (Williams, Ted) (Pimental et al 1992). However, at the same time, pesticides are useful to society because they are used to control or kill potential disease-causing organisms and insects, weeds and other pests.

The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act requires that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) evaluate pesticides before they can be sold and used in the United States. The EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs is responsible for ensuring that a pesticide will not pose unreasonable adverse effects to human health and the environment. In addition, the EPA must ensure that use of pesticides it registers will not result in harm to species listed as endangered or threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended. To prevent and minimize the impacts of pesticides on fish, wildlife, and plants, the Service provides technical assistance and consults with the EPA during the registration and reregistration of pesticides. If pesticide use in a certain geographic area may affect a listed species, EPA may place limitations on its use. In 1988, the EPA's Endangered Species Protection Program (ESPP) website. In 2008, EPA initiated its Pesticide Registration Review Program, through which it plans to re-evaluate effects of all pesticides to listed species.  Because this program is just underway, no county bulletins are currently available for listed species, but are expected to be developed shortly.


Literature cited:

Williams, Ted. 1993. Hard News on "Soft" Pesticides. AUDUBON. March-Apri

Pimental P., H. Acquay, M. Biltonen, P. Rice, M. Silva, J. Nelson, V. Lipner, S. Giordano, A. Horowitz, and M. D’Amore. 1992. Environmental and economic costs of pesticide use. BioScience 42:750-759.l

Gilliom R.J., J.E. Barbash, C.G. Crawford, P.A. Hamilton, J.D. Martin, N. Nakagaki, L.H. Nowell, J.C. Scott, P.E. Stackelberg, G.P. Thelin, and D.M. Wolock. 2006. Pesticides in the Nation’s Streams and Ground Water, 1992-2001. U.S. Geological Survey, reston, VA. Circular 1291.

Last updated: February 13, 2013