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Lawmakers Go Forward on Invasive Plant Prohibition and Resurrect State Invasive Species Council

On December 15, 2022, in Trenton, New Jersey, Patricia Shanley of the New Jersey Forest Task Force spoke before the Senate environment committee. (Image by New Jersey Monitor/Daniela DiFilippo)

Legislators in New Jersey unanimously decided on Thursday that the New Jersey Invasive Species Council should be reinstated, fulfilling the wishes of environmentalists who have pushed for the council’s revival for years.

According to the New Jersey Forest Task Force, New Jersey is one of just five states in the country that does not have statewide legislation or a strategy to ban or contain invasive species, which degrade forests and have caused $1.3 trillion in damages globally over the previous four decades.

Lawmakers advance bill to ban invasive plants, revive statewide invasive species council

According to Laura Bush of the non-profit Native Plant Society of New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania already conduct such work, making New Jersey’s inactivity all the more appalling.

Critically, we’re behind our neighbours, which means we’re adding tremendously to the problem while our neighbours are trying to control it, as Bush put it. A major threat to the ecosystem is posed by invasive plant species.

Democrats from Middlesex County, Senators Bob Smith and Linda Greenstein, proposed a bill to the Senate environment committee that would make it illegal to sell, distribute, or propagate some invasive species without first obtaining state authorization.

In response to environmentalists’ passionate testimony, the committee unanimously voted to forward the bill and add language to reinstate the Invasive Species Council, which had been established by then-governor Jim McGreevey in 2004 but disbanded by then-governor Chris Christie a decade earlier.

The council’s role would be consultative, with members offering suggestions to the state Department of Agriculture regarding regulatory changes or invasive species that should be added to a prohibited list.

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A bill to bring the council back has already been introduced in the Assembly. Since its introduction in February by its two Republican sponsors, however, nothing has happened.

Around 200 invasive plant species and 100 invasive species of fish, diseases, and vertebrate animals are believed to have invaded New Jersey, according to environmental experts who testified on Thursday.

They found that gardeners and landscapers were the most common source of invasive plants in the state.

The invasive species “don’t stay in our gardens” when people like Bush place them there. Spreading onto neighbouring fields, they choke out the local flora and fauna.

Many have vines and huge root systems that choke native flora out of New Jersey’s woodlands, which in turn has knock-on effects on insects, animals, and the overall ecosystem. The New Jersey Forest Task Force reports that invasive species threaten over 40% of endangered species.

Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space is a non-profit organisation, and Mike Van Clef is the director of the New Jersey Invasive Species Strike Team. About 15 years ago, that attack team was established, and its members now travel the state armed with herbicides to combat exotic plants.

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Van Clef testified before lawmakers and argued that reviving the council would help New Jersey attract federal funding for a more robust fight against invasives.

A forest biologist and task force member named Patricia Shanley demonstrated the damage invasive species inflict to legislators by displaying the limbs and dirt-crusted roots of Oriental bittersweet and Japanese barberry as well as a log of an ash tree that had been killed by invading beetles.

Lawmakers advance bill to ban invasive plants, revive statewide invasive species council

They pose a significant danger to the Earth. Shanley remarked, “They lower water quality, pose a threat to human health, threaten food security, and are a major contributor to the extinction of species.” Because forests are our best line of defence against global warming, the consequences of deforestation are extremely serious.

She continued, “We cannot put off dealing with this much longer.” As part of her push to mandate climate change education in K-12 schools, First Lady Tammy Murphy recommended enlisting the state’s youngsters as a conservation corps to combat invasive species.

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A witness from the New Jersey Nursery and Landscape Association said that their organisation would back the legislation provided it were guaranteed “a seat at the table” in the event that the council were to formally assemble again.

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Marissa Figgs
I write picture books, for middle grade, and young adults, some of which have won prizes, been filmed, or become bestsellers. I've ghostwritten for Pixar and developed teen work for Alloy Entertainment. I think heartfelt writing is the finest. It doesn't have to be personal, but it must be visceral. You want them riveted from the first word, page, or sentence, no matter how painful or unpleasant, and that's my expertise.
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