The Service has been involved with studying contaminant effects on fish and wildlife since its earliest days. With increasing public awareness of pollution problems and demand for political action, these efforts became a greater focus for the Service in the 1950s.
In 1962, Rachel Carson, a former Service employee, captured national attention with her landmark book, Silent Spring, which outlined the widespread harmful effects of pesticides on the environment. Carson's alarming message that the effects of these substances on wildlife serve as indicators of what may ultimately jeopardize our own health struck a chord with the American public.
Man-made pollution remains one of the nation's greatest environmental concerns. Like the proverbial canary in the coal mine, the declining health of plants and animals often signals pollution problems that may ultimately affect people and their quality of life. The Service plays a pivotal role in protecting our National Wildlife Refuges, endangered and threatened species, migratory birds, and habitats from pollution; creating a healthy environment for all life.
Today, the Service's contaminants specialists are stationed at more than 75 locations around the country. Service contaminants specialists are on the front lines in the fight against pollution. Our contaminant expertise extends to a variety of pollutants including pesticides, metals, petroleum products, and emerging contaminants such as: pharmaceuticals, personal care products, and neonictinoids (a class of insecticides).
Water, one of the most basic and required resources for life, is also becoming a primary driver for environmental awareness. With ongoing drought conditions across many areas of the U.S., it serves to highlight the importance of protecting the quality of this precious resource. For example, approximately one third of all native freshwater mussels are either extinct or listed as endangered or threatened; many a result of impaired water quality. As environmental indicators of aquatic systems, declining mussel populations also indicate water quality concerns for people.
Threats to water quality come in many forms ranging from non-point source runoff to end-of-pipe discharges, both current and historical. Many of these contaminants have the potential to impact wildlife prior to entering surface waters. Agricultural practices, mining activities, petroleum exploration, and chemical manufacture introduce contaminants, such as pesticides, metals, and hazardous chemicals, into terrestrial ecosystems as well. The Service plays an important role in the assessment and protection of terrestrial habitats, water quality and wildlife species that depend on them. This ultimately helps make our environment a safer place not only for wildlife species and their habitat, but for humans as well.
As complex as today's environmental issues are, we are also working to prepare for and plan ahead to address future contaminant issues that we may see as a result of climate change. For example, predicted sea level rise may increase the odds of contaminants entering the environment as a result of flooding that may occur to oil refineries, chemical plants and other industries, and Superfund sites that currently reside along our existing coastlines. Additionally, elevated temperatures predicted by climate change models will potentially mobilize chemicals and increase the chance of exposure, and can impact the overall toxicity of some metals, like copper and mercury. We are working to understand how the impacts of climate change could affect our natural resources and contaminants in the environment, so we can prepare for and avoid negative effects on wildlife and other natural resources.
Wildlife and Habitat Conservation
- Conservation Planning