The Legislature is ramping up efforts to eliminate the havoc created by invasive plants in New Jersey.
Earlier this month, the Senate Environment and Energy Committee unanimously approved a bill that would ban the sale and distribution of certain invasive plants in most cases. Legislation (C-2186) would also revive the New Jersey Invasive Species Council, an organization created by former Gov. John Corzine 18 years ago.
New Jersey is one of five states that do not have statewide bans on the sale of the worst invasive plants, such as Japanese barberry, Norway maple, English ivy, frags and Chinese silverweed, to name a few, according to State Native Plant Society.
“The Garden State is far behind other states,” said Laura Bush, a member of the organization.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Mercer) and Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), is designed to contain invasive plant species that are widespread and pose a threat to the state’s ecology. Many of the plants for sale in New Jersey were imported from other continents, some on purpose, others by accident.
Suppression of the natives
Even a relatively small number of non-native plants can take up a lot of space that would otherwise be occupied by native species. These invasive plants can crowd out native species and spread quickly because they lack natural enemies to control them.
The legislation requires the state Department of Agriculture to establish a permit system for the safe distribution of certain invasive plant species, including permits for research and educational purposes. The department would also be allowed to add species to the invasive plant list if it finds that the species threatens the state’s ecological or cultural resources.
Environmentalists demand a state act after years of neglect
The New Jersey Invasive Species Council would be tasked with developing a state invasive species management plan no later than one year after the bill takes effect. The council will consist of ex-officio members of state agencies and a public member appointed by the governor.
The previous board, created in 2004, was disbanded by former Gov. Chris Christie. Back in 2010, a report estimated that invasive plants and other invasive species had an economic impact on agriculture of $290 million per year.
In addition to the New Jersey Native Plant Society, other organizations have stepped up to educate the public about the risks of invasive plants, including Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space, which created the New Jersey Invasive Species Task Force.
The New Jersey Forestry Association says invasive species problems have increased dramatically over the past two decades, identifying 21 plants that have taken over the state’s forests. Properly applied herbicides have been shown to be most effective in controlling invasive plants, according to a brochure produced by the association.
Under the bill, a person who sells, offers for sale, distributes or distributes an invasive plant species for sale or distribution without a permit from the department would be subject to a civil penalty of up to $100 for a first offense and up to $200 for a second offense and up to $300 for a third or subsequent offense.