By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — Massachusetts and Connecticut keep a list of illegal and regulated invasive plant species and some nature groups want an updated one started in Rhode Island.
Invasives are plants and animals from a different country or region that reproduce quickly and spread on their own in a new habitat, often with harmful consequences.
They arrive in firewood, shipping containers, and ballast water, or on tire treads. They can be spread by birds or introduced unintentionally through scientific and agricultural research. Many invasive plants start as landscape and decorative plantings.
In Rhode Island, common land-based invasive plants, such as bittersweet, knotweed, and multiflora rose, are easy to spot on roadsides throughout the state. These plants proliferate rapidly and are a stubborn nuisance to property owners and land trusts, killing trees and crowding out native species.
The legislation (S411) regulates running bamboo, a fast-spreading plant that quickly crosses property lines. It can penetrate asphalt and the siding of buildings. Many homeowners, not knowing the unintended consequence, plant running bamboo as a natural barrier that offers privacy and blocks out animals such as deer. But some invasive bamboo species can grow 40 feet high and their roots can travel 15 feet a year.
The Protection From Invasive Species Act prohibits the planting of running bamboo within 100 feet of a property line. The plants must otherwise be confined to a container or prevented from spreading roots.
Violators would be liable for the cost of removing the plant from a neighbor’s property, plus any damages. Retailers and landscapers would be required to provide customers written notice of the risks of running bamboo.
The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) would be granted authority to require the removal or destruction of running bamboo. A $100 fine would be imposed to first-time violators and up to $250 for repeat offenders.
To address other invasives, the legislation requires DEM to create a list of invasive plant species, regulate their sale, and enforce compliance. DEM, however, is opposed to the legislation because the state agency says it already regulates plant pests and can assess fines up $500 for transporting invasive aquatic plants.
DEM noted that it doesn’t allow federally designated noxious weeds to enter the state.
The Rhode Island Farm Bureau fears the bill will persecute farmers for invasive species that they didn’t plant. Bureau president Henry B. Wright III noted that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) gave multiflora rose to farmers in the 1950s as a control for erosion.
“The plant is now considered to be an invasive species by the USDA as it forms dense thickets that invade pastures and crowd out native species,” Wright wrote in a letter to the Senate Committee on the Environment and Agriculture.
Wright suggested that the state instead offer money to farmers and property owners for the removal of invasive plants.
In 2001, the Rhode Island Natural History Survey created a priority list of invasive plants through the Rhode Island Invasive Species Council.
“But our thinking on invasives has changed quite a bit,” said David Gregg, executive director of Rhode Island Natural History Survey. “There’s been a lot of change in the landscape and nursery industry in that time. And I think we need a new initiative.”
Through the Natural History Survey, Rhode Island has been reducing invasives. Between 2010 and 2012, the state spent $300,000 of federal money to train professionals to remove invasive plants from state land and other natural habitat. Gregg noted that during that time the same invasive plants were being planted near these properties.
“In the Survey’s opinion, it would be helpful to have an up-to-date list of noxious invasive plants supported by a public process and consensus,” Gregg said at an April 11 Senate committee hearing.
The bill is supported by the Rhode Island Land Trust Council.
The bill was held until a future hearing.