Federal Laws Related to Wildlife Control


Learning objectives for section one:

  1. List the three federal agencies that regulate nuisance wildlife control.
  2. Identify one way in which the Endangered Species Act might affect your business.
  3. List the three groups of birds that aren’t protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
  4. FIFRA (Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act) places three critical restrictions on NWCO activity—name them.
  5. Identify two subject areas important to NWCOs that would be covered in depth on the OSHA website.

The major agencies involved in regulating the NWCO industry at the federal level are the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (US FWS), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA), and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the Department of Labor (OSHA). In special circumstances other federal agencies may have jurisdiction, such as the Federal Aviation Agency for wildlife control at airports, and the Department of Transportation, for transporting wildlife across state borders or using certain hazardous materials, such as phosphine gas.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Division of Wildlife Services (USDA-APHIS-WS http://www.aphis.usda.gov/wps/portal/aphis/ourfocus/wildlifedamage) provides federal leadership in addressing wildlife damage issues, but doesn’t have a regulatory role. They help manage wildlife to reduce damage to agriculture and natural resources, to minimize risks to human health and safety, and to help protect endangered and threatened species.

Here are brief descriptions of the most pertinent federal laws affecting the NWCO industry. These laws, which are part of the U.S. Code, may be found online and at most public libraries. We’ve included the website addresses and the citation for the relevant section of the U.S. Code. Reference librarians can help you find the law in the books, especially if you present the citation, such as “16 U.S.C. 1531-1544, 87 Stat. 884.”

Endangered Species Act

Regulatory agencies: US FWS (http://www.fws.gov/), and each state’s lead wildlife agency (in NY, that’s the DEC http://www.dec.ny.gov/)

Applicable to: All plants and animals on the federal endangered or threatened species lists

Read the law: online—http://laws.fws.gov/lawsdigest/esact.html  

print—16 U.S.C. 1531-1544, 87 Stat. 884

This law protects endangered or threatened plant and animal species. What does it mean for you? It’s simple: it means an endangered or threatened species should not be injured or harassed by your nuisance wildlife control activities. These species cannot be killed, harmed, or collected except under some carefully described circumstances, and then, only with permits. The only exception to this is when endangered or threatened bats are found in occupied homes. These bats may be killed if necessary for health department ordered rabies testing. This can take place without the need for a permit.

If there are endangered or threatened species living in the areas where you work, you must take special precautions. This might affect how you set traps or apply pesticides, for example. One measure of a pest manager’s professionalism is how diligently you try to protect other species from control activities, whether or not those “non-targeted species” are endangered.

Migratory Bird Treaty Act

Regulatory agencies: US FWS, and each state’s lead wildlife agency (again, in NY, that’s the DEC)

Applicable to: all migratory birds (such as ducks, geese, songbirds, gulls, shorebirds, wading birds, birds of prey) with these exceptions:

  • Three nonnative birds: the common pigeon (a.k.a. “rock dove”), house sparrow (a.k.a. “English sparrow”), and European starling,
  • Upland game birds that don’t migrate, and are managed by the DEC (such as turkey, quail, pheasant, and grouse), and
  • Certain blackbirds in certain agricultural situations (see below).

Read the law: online—http://laws.fws.gov/lawsdigest/migtrea.html

print—16 U.S.C. 703-712; Ch. 128; July 13 1918; 40 Stat. 755

This law protects all migratory birds, their feathers, nests, and eggs (with the few exceptions listed above). You may not take, possess, or transport a migratory bird without a special federal permit. Before you attempt to control a migratory bird, the landowners must obtain the 50 CFR Depredation Permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This permit allows the taking of migratory birds that have become a nuisance, are destructive to public or private property, or are a threat to public health or welfare. The permit spells out the conditions under which the birds may be controlled and the methods that may be used. Permit holders may control migratory birds that are clearly shown to cause, or are about to cause, serious damage to crops, nursery stocks, or fish in hatcheries. (USDA- APHIS-WS staff can help you apply for this permit. There is a fee for the permit.)

There is an exception to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act concerning blackbirds: “A federal permit shall not be required to control yellow-headed, red-winged, rusty, and Brewer’s blackbirds, cowbirds, all grackles, crows, and magpies when found committing or about to commit depredations upon ornamental or shade trees, agricultural crops, livestock, or wildlife, or when concentrated in such numbers and manner as to constitute a health hazard or other nuisance….”

State and local ordinances may further define control activities. For example, in New York, the Environmental Conservation Law states “Red-winged blackbirds, common grackles and cowbirds destroying any crop may be killed during the months of June, July, August, September and October by the owner of the crop or property on which it is growing or by any person in his employ.”

Local laws may limit the types of treatments that can be used in controlling birds, for example, they may limit the use of pyrotechnics. Check local and state laws before attempting to control any bird species.

Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA)

Regulatory agency: US EPA (federal level); state designated lead agency (in NY, that’s the DEC)

Applicable to: pesticide use (the handling, use, storage, transportation, sale, and disposal of pesticides)

License required: pesticide applicator license for the use of restricted-use pesticides, or for the commercial application of pesticides. The commercial pesticide applicator license is broken down into 28 categories and subcategories, each requiring its own certification.

Read the law:  online— http://www.epa.gov/agriculture/lfra.html

print—Title 7, U.S.C. Ch. 6

Sit up straight, because this one is complicated. FIFRA is the federal law that regulates pesticides. (A pesticide is any substance designed to prevent, destroy, repel, or mitigate any pest.) However, in most states, certain provisions of FIFRA are enforced at the state level through state pesticide regulations. We’ll talk about those later.

Because of FIFRA:

  • All pesticides, as well as each use of that pesticide, must be registered by the US EPA. The EPA must also approve the product label.
  • The EPA also classifies pesticides as either “general use” or “restricted use.” (A “restricted use” pesticide is one that, even if used as directed, might possibly harm people or the environment.)
  • A restricted use pesticide may only be used by, or under the direct supervision of, a certified applicator.
  • The amount of pesticide residue allowed on food is described.
  • There are regulations for storing and disposing of pesticides and their containers.
  • The EPA provides standards for worker safety and re-entry into a pesticide-treated area.
  • There are criminal or civil penalties for violations of FIFRA. Big ones. A commercial applicator could be fined up to $25,000 or serve one year in prison, or both. NWCOs using pesticides on the job qualify as commercial applicators.
  • States may set stricter standards but they can’t establish a more permissive one. That means that no state can allow the sale or use of a pesticide that is not permitted by federal law.

Each state has laws governing the sale, use, disposal, storage, and transportation of pesticides. Nearly every state controls the certification of pesticide applicators within its borders (in Colorado and Nebraska, federal programs handle this duty).

This is the basic federal law that regulates the use of pesticides. A pesticide is any substance designed to prevent, destroy, repel, or mitigate any pest. Each state has a cooperative agreement with the EPA to enforce some provisions of FIFRA. Because of this law, the EPA must register all pesticides before they can be sold or used. Pesticides are classified as either “general use” or “restricted use.” General use pesticides may be purchased without restriction. Restricted-use pesticides can only be used by, or under the direct supervision of, a certified applicator.

There are three critical points to keep in mind concerning FIFRA:

  1. The minute you step onto someone else’s property, the laws for the commercial application of pesticides come into play. Homeowners may apply general use pesticides such as repellents on their property, but you cannot do so unless you have a commercial pesticide applicator license. You can advise landowners about this option, but you cannot provide the service unless you also have a commercial pesticide applicator license.
  2. If there’s an EPA number on the label, you need a commercial pesticide applicator license to use it on someone else’s property.
  3. ALWAYS read and follow the pesticide label instructions. The label is the law. Any use not listed on the label is prohibited.

Avoid the “oops” (pay attention when using something such as pesticides)

FIFRA is probably the law that is most misunderstood by NWCOs. Why? Because in many cases, they don’t even realize they’re dealing with a pesticide.

Any substance that’s meant to prevent, destroy, or repel pests, or reduce their damage, is legally classified as a pesticide. It doesn’t matter if it’s a commercial product or a home remedy.

Chemical repellents are pesticides. So are fumigants, such as phosphine gas tablets or a carbon monoxide gas cartridge used to control rodents in their burrows. Poison baits, such as rodenticides, are also pesticides.

There’s an easy way to figure this all out. Read the product label. If it’s a legal pesticide, the label will include all the information you need. And—the label is the law.

Do you trust everyone? Not all manufacturers are honest or competent. They might purposefully or accidentally include a dangerous substance in the product. That’s why we rely on scientific studies and government regulatory processes. That’s how you know that the list of ingredients is complete and accurate. That’s how you know that a 2% solution is just that, not 0.2% solution in this bottle, and a 20% solution in that one.

Remember, too, that just because a pesticide is sold through a trade magazine or the internet, that doesn’t mean you can legally use it in New York State. Legal pesticides are registered by the EPA and the DEC, or are in a special category, “25b minimum risk exemptions.”

If you have any questions about pesticides, check the DEC website, or call your regional DEC office or the Compliance Section of the DEC’s Bureau of Pesticides Management at (518) 402-8781. Unless you also have a commercial pesticide applicator license, you cannot use any of the following pesticides on someone else’s property:

  1. Chemical repellents,
  2. Fumigants (such as phosphine gas tablets, or a carbon monoxide gas cartridge, used to control rodents in their burrows), and
  3. Poison baits, such as rodenticides, even those that can be bought over-the-counter.

No snake repellents. No mothballs. No bird repellents. No poisonous mouse baits. Got it? To make sure you can legally use a product in your business with only your NWCO license, check the label. If there’s an EPA registration or establishment number, you can’t use it.

There’s another risky area for NWCOs: the use of “home remedies.” In addition to various homemade concoctions, this term refers to the novel use of a household product, such as using household ammonia as a repellent to drive raccoons out of a chimney. Anecdotal evidence may suggest that a product that isn’t labeled as a pesticide is effective as a repellent, for example. Common sense may suggest its safe, especially if it contains only natural substances—say, animal urine. It may address a situation that isn’t easily solved otherwise.

Unfortunately, when a product hasn’t gone through the regulatory process, you may lack vital information about its use. What’s the recommended dose? Are the application directions precise and easily followed? Does the label list precautions that would help you minimize risks to the applicator, other people, other species, and the environment? When can you re-enter a treated area? How do you dispose of the materials afterwards?

Until the scientific studies have proven the use is safe, you can’t be sure. In certain cases, the restrictions may seem ludicrous. A raccoon is living in the home, peeing wherever it pleases, but I can’t apply a little bit of raccoon eviction fluid, a product that contains raccoon urine?

Some home remedies might qualify as an “off-label” use that’s illegal under FIFRA. Some may fall under different laws, or the legal implications may be unclear. If a product is unlabeled, or if its label doesn’t meet federal specifications, the suggested use might still be considered an off-label, and illegal use. Even giving advice about such home remedies could be considered questionable. This is murky territory. If you’re unsure, call the DEC’s Bureau of Pesticide Management at (518) 402-8788.

A strict interpretation of FIFRA would also prohibit you from using a wasp or hornet spray, even a mint-oil based spray, while on the job. But, like utility workers, NWCOs often work on ladders. If stinging insects are close enough to where you’re working that you feel threatened, most authorities wouldn’t prosecute if you sprayed a general use wasp killer just to protect yourself, for example, while doing bat exclusion. Best advice is: try to avoid stinging insects or their nests; don’t offer to control stinging insects for a customer; and don’t charge for it.

A caution for NWCOs who also have commercial pesticide applicator licenses: recently, a group of natural products received an exemption from FIFRA under category 25b.These products are federally registered. But none of them are registered in New York State yet, so you can’t use them. This may change. Check with the DEC for the current status of these products.

Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)

Regulatory agency: OSHA division of the U.S. Department of Labor

Applicable to: all employers who have more than ten employees

Read the law:  online-  http://www.osha.gov/law-regs.html

print—Public Law 91-596, 91st Congress, S. 2193, Dec. 29, 1970

This law requires that all employers who have more than ten employees keep records of all work-related deaths, injuries, and illnesses, and report to OSHA periodically. It also requires the investigation of employee complaints that may be related to the use of pesticides. OSHA also sets standards to promote worker safety. For example, you have to tell your workers about job hazards, such as possible exposure to histoplasmosis from contact with pigeon droppings. Even if you don’t have more than ten workers, the OSHA standards and training recommendations are worth reviewing, especially those concerning the safe use of ladders and respirators.

Higher, deeper, further… (optional activities to explore perspectives about this topic).

  • Contact the DEC’s Bureau of Wildlife for the mostcurrent lists of federally endangered and threatened species.   While you’re at it, request the NY state list, too. Learn how to identify those species that are found in your ar Know the habitats and habits of these species.
  • Learn what you can legally do to deal with problems caused by Canada geese, gulls, and woodpeckers without the federal permit (see Appendix C).
  • Check local and state laws to determine if there are additional restrictions on bird contr
  • If you want to use pesticides in your NWCO business, seek the proper training and obtain a commercial pesticide applicator license. Learn how to choose the least-toxic materials that provide effective r
  • Browse the OSHA website at http://www.osha.gov for safety


Before you answer the review questions, you may wish to think about the learning objectives for this section:

  1. List the three federal agencies that regulate nuisance wildlife control.
  2. Identify one way in which the Endangered Species Act might affect your business.
  3. List the three groups of birds that aren’t protected by the Migrator y Bird Treaty Act.
  4. FIFRA (Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act) defines pesticides. Give three examples of pesticides used in nuisance wildlife control.
  5. Identify two subject areas important to NWCOs that would be covered in depth on the OSHA website.

Review questions

  1. Some birds are not protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Check all of the ones that are NOT covered by this law.

_____Canada geese

_____house (English) sparrow

_____upland game birds

_____European starling

_____cowbirds & magpies (under certain circumstances)

_____pigeon (rock dove)

_____herring gull


  1. A NWCO in the Midwest told you about a very effective raccoon repellent. You don’t have a commercial pesticide applicator license. Can you use it at work?
  2. yes
  3. no
  4. maybe, but only under the super vision of a veterinarian
  5. If your business employs eight workers, you must offer them the chance to participate in OSHA training for the use of respirators. (Circle correct answer) True False
  6. Which federal agencies have regulations that affect the NWCO industry? Check all that apply.

____Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)

____Federal Aviation Agency (FAA)

____US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)

____US Dept. of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Division of Wildlife Services (USDA-WS)

____US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA)

____Department of Transportation

  1. The same restrictions apply to homeowners and commercial pesticide applicators. (Circle correct answer) True False
  2. If there’s a threatened plant species near your work site, you must not:
  3. tell anyone.
  4. set any traps in that area.
  5. apply any pesticides in that area.
  6. injure it in any way.
  7. It’s illegal to apply a pesticide in a way that’s not described on the label. (Circle correct answer)

True       False


1—house sparrow, upland game birds, European starling, cowbirds and magpies (under certain circumstances), and the pigeon (rock dove)


3—false. OSHA kicks in when you have at least ten employees.

4—OSHA, FAA, USFWS, US EPA, and the Department of Transportation