The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing a range of mitigation measures to protect 27 endangered species the agency says are “particularly vulnerable” to the effects of pesticides.

EPA says it hopes the restrictions will minimize impacts on the species ahead of any consultation required by the Endangered Species Act. Courts have repeatedly criticized EPA for not completing the consultations, which can take years, and have ordered EPA in particular cases to complete them within specific time frames, forcing EPA to devote its resources to ensure compliance.

The species have “limited geographic range, small population size, and high susceptibility to environmental stressors such that effects to even a small number of individuals can harm the entire species,” the agency said in a news release.

The species include 12 plants, seven invertebrates and four mussels, as well as a fish, bird, mammal and an amphibian. EPA is seeking public comment before finalizing the plan.

EPA and the Department of the Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service, which is responsible for enforcement of the ESA, “may develop a pesticide programmatic consultation, or other streamlining process, that will include the evaluation of pesticide exposure to pilot species using the Vulnerable Species Pilot,” the draft document released by EPA says.

“Pollinator health affects biodiversity, ecosystems, global food supplies, and human health,” EPA Deputy Assistant Administrator for Pesticide Programs Jake Li said. “The proposed mitigations … are tailored to where these 27 listed species, including pollinators, live and our new maps make it easy for people to find and visualize this important information.”

“By implementing these earlier mitigations, EPA expects that a programmatic or other consultation could be more efficient and potentially allow FWS to make final determinations concluding that the actions are not likely to jeopardize the pilot species or adversely modify their designated critical habitats,” the draft says.

EPA expects the proposed mitigation measures “would apply to the majority of conventional outdoor-use pesticides.”

“Because the pilot species are some of the most vulnerable to potential effects, EPA designed the mitigation measures to be broad enough that the mitigations protect the pilot species while being implemented efficiently and effectively, and clear enough that pesticide users can understand and apply the use-limitation instructions,” the draft document says.

The Center for Biological Diversity, which has brought multiple lawsuits seeking to force EPA and FWS to consult, said it was pleased with the draft.

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“This is an exciting new development that turns the focus to individual species especially imperiled by pesticides and the measures immediately needed to protect them,” said Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center for Biological Diversity. 

“If adopted, the agency’s commonsense proposals, such as not using pesticides that can kill these endangered species in the specific places they need most to survive, will be an important step toward preventing their extinction,” Burd said.

EPA is developing a similar plan for herbicides, which it expects to release soon.

EPA plans to communicate the geographic-specific mitigation measures through an agency website. The restrictions, the draft document said, “are made enforceable through directions to access and follow them on pesticide labeling.”

Among the measures being considered for certain species, such as the Rusty patched bumble bee, are prohibitions on applications within specific areas “unless the applicator coordinates with the local FWS Ecological Services field offices to determine appropriate measures to ensure the proposed application is likely to have no more than minor effects on the species.”

For broadcast spray applications in the range of other species covered by the pilot, EPA is considering not allowing spraying within specific distances from “sinkholes, springs, disappearing streams or known openings of cave systems.”

For 25 species where runoff or erosion is a concern, EPA is proposing a ban on applications “when soil in the area to be treated is saturated” along with other restrictions that would require growers to follow the weather reports closely. 

For example, the draft proposes the following language for those 25 species: “Do not apply if NOAA/National Weather Service predicts 50% chance or greater of 1 or more inches of rainfall to occur within 48 hours following application.”

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