Save endangered species from overuse of deadly “neonic” pesticides

Endangered species in the US from bees to birds may begin to breathe a little easier.

Earlier this month, the US EPA took an important step toward protecting many endangered species from dangerous pesticides.

First, the technical stuff. The US Environmental Protection Agency said on June 16 that three “neonic” insecticides are likely to adversely affect more than two-thirds to three-quarters of America’s endangered species — 1,225 to 1,445 species in total. The three neonicotinoid insecticides, also known as neonics, are clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam.

It is now up to the states as well as the federal government to proceed with that decision. If they do, it will help protect endangered species in the future and make farming more sustainable in states like Illinois with strong agricultural bases.

,[The EPA ruling] Good news. This is a call to action by the federal government and state governments,” Steve Blackledge, senior director of Environment America’s Conservation America campaign, told us. “Neonics is causing a lot of harm.”

Neonics are effective insecticides that are applied directly to the surface of the seed in small doses. They add much smaller amounts of pesticides to the environment than widespread spraying.

But they are absorbed by plants, which makes the entire plant—including the plant’s nectar, pollen, and fruit—deadly for some species, and they can live in the soil for years. Carry out in runoff, neonics pollute waterways across the country.

“How scary it is completely [neonics] “Field crops took over agriculture,” Bill Freese, scientific director of the Washington-based Center for Food Safety, told us.

Because neonics are so effective, sustainable organic farming methods such as crop rotation and planting off-season cover crops have fallen by the wayside, Freese said.

neonics are banned in the European Union, but they are the most popular insecticide in the United States. The Illinois Public Interest Research Group has called for an end to the excessive use of pesticides, including a ban on consumer use. Studies have shown that neonics harm bees, birds, butterflies, freshwater invertebrates and mammals, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

As the center’s environmental health director Lori Ann Bird said in a statement, “We are in the midst of a heartbreaking extinction crisis, and neonicotinoids are playing a big role in driving it.”

Many species are struggling. The once common American bumblebee has declined by about 89% over the past 20 years. A 2019 analysis found that wild bird populations in the continental US and Canada have declined by 29% – or about 3 billion birds – since 1970.

The Center for Food Safety said species that have been found by the EPA include Chinook salmon, Florida panther, Indiana bat, whooping crane, California red-legged frog, kerner blue butterfly and yellow larkspur.

It’s not just about losing endangered species. The Illinois PIRG says that bees pollinate 71 of the top 100 crops that provide 90% of the world’s food. Killing harmful insects with insecticides doesn’t help as much as it should if the plants are not pollinated.

Clearly, endangered species need our help.

The next step in the process of regulating neonics is for the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to create safeguards for the use of neonics based on the EPA’s decision.

Over the past year, Massachusetts, Maine, New York and New Jersey have banned consumer sales of Neonics. In Illinois, state Representative Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, introduced a bill limiting the use of neonics on public lands in January, but the bill stuck in the rules committee when the session ended.

“The science is very clear” [neonics] pose serious environmental hazards,” Gujardi said. “We’ve been working on this for a few years, but the chemical industry has opened up on this issue.”

Farmers need to be productive, especially at a time when food supplies around the world have been disrupted. But that productivity should not come at the cost of unnecessarily harming many of our native species.

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