The EPA’s Proposed Herbicide Strategy and What it Means for Herbicide Use

By Alyssa Essman, The Ohio State University, Adapted from C.O.R.N. 2023-38

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973 was passed by Congress in an effort to protect endangered species and their habitats. In recent years the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been under fire for not meeting the obligations outlined within the ESA, which ultimately left them vulnerable to legal ramifications. In early 2022 the EPA released the ESA workplan to address this issue. The herbicide strategy is one part of this larger workplan to protect the 900 plant and animal species classified as endangered. The proposed herbicide strategy was released in July 2023 and outlined the EPA’s plan for meeting ESA obligations with respect to herbicide drift, runoff, and/or erosion.

The proposed method of meeting ESA obligations is through the use of various mitigation strategies. For spray drift, mitigation strategies largely refer to the use of spray drift buffers. The required size of these buffers depends on application equipment, droplet size, and level of species impact, and can be reduced with the use of hooded sprayers or windbreaks. Runoff and erosion mitigation measures include the categories of field management, field characteristics, application parameters, and areas adjacent to the field or between field and habitat. These strategies would be assigned a value specific to the chemical, crop, and potential influence on the species in question. The more effective a mitigation measure is considered to be in preventing off-target movement, the higher the point value. Mitigation measures would be selected by the grower, and a certain number of points would be needed to meet label requirements for the herbicide in question. A few examples from the proposed “mitigation menu” include:

Grassed waterways

Cover crops

Fields with <2% slope

Soil incorporation

Water retention systems

Growers could potentially be exempt from runoff or erosion mitigation measures if fields are >1000 ft from potential habitats of listed species, the field has subsurface drainage, or the field has a site-specific management plan for runoff or erosion from a conservation program or expert.

Where mitigation measures are required across the US, the measures would be listed on the product label. In instances where only part of the US is required to implement mitigation measures, the measures for locations affected would be available through the EPA’s Bulletins Live! Two system. Herbicides would be assigned mitigation strategies as they go through the EPA registration review process. The upcoming registration review schedule can be viewed here. Any new active ingredients would undergo the required biological evaluations and receive mitigation strategies during the registration process.

The final herbicide strategy is expected to be released early in 2024. The full draft herbicide strategy framework is available here. For a further breakdown of the proposed herbicide strategy, the USDA hosted a webinar which can be viewed here. The War Against Weeds podcast has two episodes covering the topic, which can be viewed in part one and part two.

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