Pesticides and Wildlife
"...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
It can be said that the seeds of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's environmental contaminants work were planted with the publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, but it can also be said that the book itself owed its existence to the years its author spent working for the Service and her interactions with federal scientists studying the effects of pesticides on wildlife. Carson's alarming message that the effects of these substances, more specifically DDT, on wildlife served as indicators of what may ultimately jeopardize our own health struck a chord with the American public.
Many believe Carson's book inspired the modern environmental movement and prompted the development of many pollution prevention laws still in place today. Within 15 years of the book's publication, the National Environmental Policy Act and other landmark pollution prevention laws were passed, including the Clean Water Act; Clean Air Act; Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act; Safe Drinking Water Act; Toxic Substances Control Act; and Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (Superfund).
In the post-Silent Spring era, our need to understand the impact of environmental contaminants on the natural world has not diminished. The use of pesticides can negatively impact the Service's trust resources, including fish, endangered and threatened species, migratory birds and their habitats. Pesticides are products designed to prevent, destroy, repel, or reduce pests including insects, mice, weeds, fungi, bacteria, and viruses. Examples of pesticides include products such as insect repellants, weed killers, disinfectants, and swimming pool chemicals. Pesticides are used in nearly every home, business, farm, school, hospital, and park in the U.S., and are found almost everywhere in our environment.
One way the Service works to ensure pesticides are used with the least amount of hazards to human and environmental health is through its pesticide consultations with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA is required to evaluate potential environmental impacts of pesticides before they can be sold and used in the U.S., and in accordance with the Endangered Species Act, they must ensure registered pesticides will not jeopardize the continued existence of federally listed species. The Service provides technical assistance and consults with the EPA during the pesticide registration and review process to prevent or minimize impacts to fish, wildlife, and plants.
Another way the Service works to minimize the impacts of pesticides on fish and wildlife is through Integrated Pest Management (IPM) on our public lands, the National Wildlife Refuge System. IPM is a comprehensive, environmentally sensitive approach to managing pests with biological, cultural, physical, and chemical tools, in a way that poses the least hazard to people, property, and the environment. The simple philosophy is that control will be more effective, and resistance will be less likely to build up, when a range of measures is deployed against a pest. For more information on IPM, download the Department of Interior's Integrated Pest Management Policy.
While pesticides may have negative impacts on species and habitats, we also recognize responsible pesticide application can be an effective tool to control non-native and invasive species that threaten our native fish, wildlife, and plant resources. Invasive plants and animals compete with our native wildlife, and can degrade, change, or displace native habitats. Additionally, recovery of our endangered and threatened species is frequently impeded by invasive species. While manual control of invasive species is the least risky approach, it is sometimes not feasible for a number of reasons. In these instances, the Service recognizes the need for action and recommends pesticide use provided IPM practices are used when appropriate, and pesticides are applied according to their EPA-approved label and use restrictions.
Pesticides are constantly changing and evolving with new or modified products being developed regularly. Service contaminant specialists constantly work to increase our understanding of pesticides and their effects on fish and wildlife species and their habitat by investigating emerging pesticide issues such as neonictinoids. Neonicotinoids are a fairly new class of insecticides that target the central nervous system of insects, resulting in paralysis and death. According to the EPA, uncertainties have been identified since their initial registration regarding the potential environmental fate and effects of neonicotinoids, particularly as they relate to non-target species such as pollinators. Data suggests neonicotinoid residues can accumulate in pollen and nectar of treated plants and are then transferred to pollinators that visit the plant. Adverse effects data and beekill incidents have been reported in a number of pollinator species, highlighting the potential direct and indirect effects of neonicotinoid pesticides. Given the current evidence about adverse effects of neonictinoids and the importance of pollinators on an environmental and human economic scale, the Service adopted a precautionary approach and declared in a July 2014 memo, that we will phase out the use of neonictinoids on National Wildlife Refuge System lands by January of 2016.
Bald Eagles and DDT
The bald eagle once ranged throughout every state in the country except Hawaii. When the U.S. adopted the bird as its national symbol in 1782, as many as 100,000 nesting bald eagles lived in the continental U.S., excluding Alaska. By 1963, only 417 nesting pairs were found in the lower 48 states. Today, as a result the banning of the pesticide DDT and Service recovery efforts in partnership with other federal agencies, tribes, state and local governments, conservation organizations, universities, corporations, and many individuals, this number has risen to almost 10,000 nesting pairs.
Contaminants biologists are involved in monitoring bald eagle populations and assisting in recovery activities. Some examples include in evaluating contaminant affects on eagle reproduction in Maine, evaluating the potential impacts of a landfill expansion on eagles in New York, and determining why eagle breeding success continues to be low along the Columbia River in Oregon and Washington and the Hood Canal in Washington.
Peregrine Falcons and DDT
The peregrine falcon is one of nature's swiftest and most beautiful birds of prey. Its name comes from the Latin word peregrinus, meaning "foreigner" or "traveler.&" This impressive bird has long been noted for its speed, grace, and aerial skills. As with the bald eagle, DDT was a major factor in the decline of the peregrine falcon which was listed as an endangered species in 1970. Now, the peregrine is a symbol of America's recovering threatened and endangered species. Monitoring contaminant threats to peregrines in Alaska.
Wildlife and Habitat Conservation
- Conservation Planning