The federal government is about to enact guidelines for protecting endangered species, adding to its regulations for applying pesticides. If you are shocked to find out those rules don’t already exist, so was I.

Pamela Bryer said in a lecture at the Maine Agricultural Trades Show earlier this month that the new regulations have come about because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was sued for failing to consider endangered species in its pesticide regulations. There have been 20 lawsuits over the past 25 years.

Bryer is now an agricultural toxicologist working for the state of Vermont, but when she agreed to do the talk, she worked for the Maine Board of Pesticide Control, and she presented her lecture to fulfill the commitment.

The regulations being enacted involve about 17,000 registered products containing various mixes of 1,000 active ingredients. Specific regulations will be created for each registered product. The regulations will take effect in about 18 months.

Bryer’s lecture was intended for professional landscapers, who must be licensed by the state before they can apply any pesticide. A pesticide is anything that will kill plants, insects or other animals.

I think the regulations are a good idea, as far as they go. The problem is that the pesticides are available at garden centers, hardware and big-box stores all over the country.


The homeowners who buy them are unlikely to read the instructions, which Bryer noted can run on for as much as 53 pages, before they apply the chemicals on whatever they are trying to kill. The labels also include websites for additional information. For licensed professionals, the online information is considered part of the label.

As far as pesticides go, the label is law, Bryer said several times. Any website that the label refers to for additional information is also the law – which means the pesticide applicator, or at least the applicator’s supervisor, will need access to a computer.

Listening to Bryer made me think of movements in various municipalities, Portland, South Portland and Cape Elizabeth among them, to ban the use of pesticides. I oppose such bans, because for vegetable farmers, especially, but landscapers as well, pesticides are sometimes necessary. And they do little damage if used properly. My idea would be to ban anyone who is unlicensed – including homeowners – from buying and applying pesticides. But I can’t see that becoming law.

Back to the endangered species.

Bryer said that at the federal level, the law protects endangered animals better than it does endangered plants. Furbish’s lousewort used to be among the endangered plants listed. (A ruling last year said the plant has recovered enough to be taken off the list.) Several decades ago, the flower was one of the factors that scuttled the Dickey-Lincoln Dam project in northern Aroostook County. After much publicity about the Furbish’s lousewort growing exclusively in the site selected for the dam, the project was killed in in 1981.

Other endangered species in Maine are the Atlantic salmon and, possibly, the rusty-patch bumblebee; the bees may have already vanished from the state, according to Bryer.


For each endangered species, the act will include a Public Use Limitation Area, called a PULA. That area encompasses locations where the species has been found, and a buffer area where it’s possible that the species can be found. The proposed Endangered Species Act regulations will require that any professional applying a pesticide must go the the EPA website to see if a PULA exists where the chemicals are to be sprayed. If it does, the professional must adhere to certain requirements for that area, such as creating buffers to ensure the chemicals don’t leak into waterways.

I know that most of my readers are not professional gardeners, so these regulations will not apply to you. Maybe that sounds good to you because you think a pesticide would be a handy way to rid yourself of a pest in your garden.

My purpose in describing the complexities and dangers of the law is to make you carefully question if you should be buying and spreading such poisons in your yards at all. Whether you spread the pesticides yourself or you pay someone else to do it, either way, the poison is in your yard, hurting all kinds of creatures you did not intend to hurt.

Most gardening problems can be solved with less collateral damage.

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