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Daily News Blog

02
Oct

Confronting Dramatic Biodiversity Loss on 50th Anniversary of Endangered Species Act

biodiversity loss, not just for endangered species, insect apocalypse

(Beyond Pesticides, October 2, 2023) On the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), statements out of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) raise concerns about the agency’s ability to meet the challenge of evaluating pesticides for their adverse impact on threatened and endangered species. While EPA has initiated efforts to address a significant backlog of pesticide evaluations, the agency faces a task so extensive that it may require several additional decades to fully catch up. EPA officials stated, “Even if EPA completed this work for all of the pesticides that are currently subject to court decisions and/or ongoing litigation, that work would take until the 2040s, and even then, would represent only 5 percent of EPA’s ESA obligations.”  

As part of a “whole of government” approach, EPA must redirect its pesticide program to protecting all species and their habitats.  

The speed and depth of biodiversity loss has reached crisis proportions. A 1,500-page report in 2019 by Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES )—Global Assessment Summary for Policymakers, the most comprehensive look to date at the biodiversity crisis and its implications for human civilization, makes the following finding: “Since 1970, trends in agricultural production, fish harvest, bioenergy production and harvest of materials have increased, but 14 of the 18 categories of contributions of nature that were assessed, mostly regulating and non-material contributions, have declined.” Among the contributions that have declined are soil organic carbon and pollinator diversity. 

The United Nations said last year, “Despite ongoing efforts, biodiversity is deteriorating worldwide, and this decline is projected to worsen with business-as-usual. The loss of biodiversity comes at a great cost for human well-being and the global economy.” And, despite ESA being one of the most effective conservation laws globally, protecting 1,662 species in the U.S. and 638 species elsewhere on Earth. Over the past five decades, ESA has played a pivotal role in preventing these extinctions by safeguarding the most critically endangered species within biological communities. ESA establishes a framework to categorize species as “endangered” or “threatened,” granting them specific protections, but the goal of the ESA is to address the broader issue of biodiversity loss by protecting habitats of species most at risk, or, as stated in ESA, to “Provide a means whereby the ecosystems upon which endangered species and threatened species depend may be conserved, to provide a program for the conservation of such endangered species and threatened species, and to take such steps as may be appropriate to achieve the purposes of the treaties and conventions set forth in subsection (a) of this section.” 

Yes, the data paints a clear picture of the inadequacy of the efforts related to dramatic biodiversity loss if the U.S.is going to meet the challenges. Beyond Pesticides has documented many aspects of this decline in biodiversity, and the implications for ecosystem, human, and planetary health. The data points to the importance of broad adoption of organic regenerative / agroecological systems, which can very significantly address the interactive health, biodiversity, and climate crises. 

A coalition of environmental organizations including Beyond Pesticides is calling for bold and comprehensive action to preserve our planet’s natural heritage for future generations in an urgent letter to President Joe Biden.  

As part of a “whole of government” approach, EPA must redirect its pesticide program to protecting all species and their habitats.  

Under ESA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is required to consult with relevant agencies when registering chemicals to assess their impact on endangered species. Unfortunately, EPA has consistently fallen short in fulfilling this statutory obligation, as highlighted over years of reporting by Beyond Pesticides. EPA admits that its Pesticide Program “has been unable to keep pace with its ESA workload, resulting not only in inadequate protections for listed species but also litigation against the Agency.”  

Pesticide use is a major cause of declining biodiversity, which is manifested in extinctions, endangered species, and species vulnerable to environmental disturbances—including climate change, habitat fragmentation, and toxic chemicals. If EPA is serious about protecting biodiversity, it must look first to the ways it has created the crisis in the first place. 

Studies upon studies upon studies show that pesticides are a major contributor to the loss of insect biomass and diversity known as the “insect apocalypse,” particularly in combination with climate change. Insects are important as pollinators and as part of the food web that supports all life, so the loss of insects is a threat to life on Earth. EPA’s registration of insecticides has always—from DDT to neonicotinoids—endangered insects on a global level. Similarly, pesticides threaten food webs in aquatic and marine environments. 

Pesticides threaten frogs and other amphibians in a way that demonstrates the potential to warp the growth and reproduction of all animals. Agricultural intensification, in particular pesticide and fertilizer use, is the leading factor driving declines in bird populations. 

At a more foundational level, EPA approves pesticides that, in supporting industrial agriculture, eliminate habitat—either through outright destruction or through toxic contamination. In much of the U.S., agricultural fields are bare for half the year and support a single plant species for the other half. The difference between this industrial agriculture and organic agriculture is that through their organic systems plans, organic producers are required to conserve—protect and increase—biodiversity. 

In other words, a major reason that species are endangered is that EPA has registered pesticides that harm them. If EPA is to really protect endangered species, it must eliminate the use of toxic pesticides and encourage organic production. 

The letter to President Biden emphasizes the need for a whole-of-government approach to address this crisis and underscores the importance of consulting with Tribal governments and honoring federal trust obligations to Indigenous communities. Recognizing and incorporating indigenous knowledge and practices in conservation efforts is deemed crucial to safeguard biodiversity, protect the rights of indigenous peoples, and ensure social equity and justice. 

The letter calls on President Biden to take the following actions: 

  1. Implement Whole of Government Approaches to Saving Biodiversity and Endangered Species: A national biodiversity strategy is proposed to serve as a blueprint for a coordinated response to biodiversity loss, addressing primary threats such as habitat degradation, climate change, wildlife exploitation, invasive species, and pollution.
  2. Boost Recovery of Endangered Species Through Robust Funding and Engaging Agencies Across Government: Adequate funding for the ESA and the prioritization of conservation and recovery efforts by all federal agencies, in consultation with Tribal and Indigenous communities, are essential to reversing species decline.

  3. Adopt an Ambitious Ecosystem-based Framework to Recover Endangered Species and Rebuild America’s Wildlife Populations: The letter calls for a holistic approach to recovery that considers a species’ role in ecosystems and protects key areas to increase resiliency and preserve biodiversity hotspots.

As part of this “whole of government” approach, EPA must redirect its pesticide program to protecting all species and their habitats. 

Letter to EPA Administrator: 

On the 50th anniversary of the passing of the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must take bold, visionary steps to protect all species and their habitats.  

Pesticide use is a major cause of declining biodiversity, which is manifested in extinctions, endangered species, and vulnerability of species to environmental disturbances—including climate change, habitat fragmentation, and toxic chemicals. If EPA is serious about protecting biodiversity, it must look first to the ways it has created the crisis in the first place. Dwindling biodiversity is an existential crisis that requires removing serious threats posed by pesticides. 

Many studies show that pesticides are a major contributor to the loss of insect biomass and diversity known as the “insect apocalypse,” particularly in combination with climate change. Insects are important as pollinators and as part of the food web that supports all life, so the loss of insects is a threat to life on Earth. EPA’s registration of insecticides has always—from DDT to neonicotinoids—endangered insects on a global level. Similarly, pesticides threaten food webs in aquatic and marine environments. 

Pesticides threaten frogs and other amphibians in a way that demonstrates the potential to warp the growth and reproduction of all animals. And yet, EPA continues to ignore its responsibility to eliminate risks from endocrine disrupting pesticides. Agricultural intensification, in particular pesticide and fertilizer use, is also the leading factor driving declines in bird populations. 

At a more foundational level, EPA approves pesticides that, in supporting industrial agriculture, eliminate habitat—either through outright destruction or through toxic contamination. In much of the U.S., agricultural fields are bare for half the year and support a single plant species for the other half. The difference between this industrial agriculture and organic agriculture is that through their organic systems plans, organic producers are required to conserve—protect and increase—biodiversity. 

In other words, a major reason that species are endangered is that EPA has registered pesticides that harm them. Certainly, these threats to biodiversity qualify as “unreasonable adverse effects on the environment” which, according to the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), should disqualify toxic pesticides from being used. If EPA is to really protect endangered species, it must eliminate the use of toxic pesticides and consider organic production in applying the FIFRA “unreasonable adverse effects” standard in the pesticide registration review.  

Thank you. 

Letter to U.S. Senators and Representative: 

On the 50th anniversary of the passing of the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must take bold, visionary steps to protect all species and their habitats.  

Pesticide use is a major cause of declining biodiversity, which is manifested in extinctions, endangered species, and vulnerability of species to environmental disturbances—including climate change, habitat fragmentation, and toxic chemicals. If EPA is serious about protecting biodiversity, it must look first to the ways it has created the crisis in the first place. Dwindling biodiversity is an existential crisis that requires removing serious threats posed by pesticides. 

Many studies show that pesticides are a major contributor to the loss of insect biomass and diversity known as the “insect apocalypse,” particularly in combination with climate change. Insects are important as pollinators and as part of the food web that supports all life, so the loss of insects is a threat to life on Earth. EPA’s registration of insecticides has always—from DDT to neonicotinoids—endangered insects on a global level. Similarly, pesticides threaten food webs in aquatic and marine environments. 

Pesticides threaten frogs and other amphibians in a way that demonstrates the potential to warp the growth and reproduction of all animals. And yet, EPA continues to ignore its responsibility to eliminate risks from endocrine disrupting pesticides. Agricultural intensification, in particular pesticide and fertilizer use, is also the leading factor driving declines in bird populations. 

At a more foundational level, EPA approves pesticides that, in supporting industrial agriculture, eliminate habitat—either through outright destruction or through toxic contamination. In much of the U.S., agricultural fields are bare for half the year and support a single plant species for the other half. The difference between this industrial agriculture and organic agriculture is that through their organic systems plans, organic producers are required to conserve—protect and increase—biodiversity. 

In other words, a major reason that species are endangered is that EPA has registered pesticides that harm them. Certainly, these threats to biodiversity qualify as “unreasonable adverse effects on the environment” which, according to the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), should disqualify toxic pesticides from being used. If EPA is to really protect endangered species, it must eliminate the use of toxic pesticides and encourage organic production.  

Please tell EPA to protect endangered species by eliminating the registrations of toxic pesticides and consider organic production in applying the FIFRA “unreasonable adverse effects” standard in the pesticide registration review. 

Thank you. 

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