Critical loads of atmospheric deposition help decision-makers identify levels of air pollution harmful to ecosystem components. But when critical loads are exceeded, how can the accompanying ecological risk be quantified? We use a 90% quantile regression to model relationships between nitrogen and sulfur deposition and epiphytic macrolichens, focusing on responses of concern to managers of US forests: Species richness and abundance and diversity of functional groups with integral ecological roles. Analyses utilized national-scale lichen survey data, sensitivity ratings, and modeled deposition and climate data. We propose 20, 50, and 80% declines in these responses as cut-offs for low, moderate, and high ecological risk from deposition. Critical loads (low risk cut-off) for total species richness, sensitive species richness, forage lichen abundance and cyanolichen abundance, respectively, were 3.5, 3.1, 1.9, and 1.3 kg N and 6.0, 2.5, 2.6, and 2.3 kg S ha−1 yr−1. High environmental risk (80% decline), excluding total species richness, occurred at 14.8, 10.4, and 6.6 kg N and 14.1, 13, and 11 kg S ha−1 yr−1. These risks were further characterized in relation to geography, species of conservation concern, number of species affected, recovery timeframes, climate, and effects on interdependent biota, nutrient cycling, and ecosystem services.