Roots and Shoots: Put Down the Barberry

New statewide regulations restrict planting invasive species

Aggressive, non-native plants and wildlife deemed “biological pollution” in new regulations from the Department of Environmental Conservation will be prohibited and regulated beginning next year. The action comes as the devastation and threats to our landscapes and waterways worsen every year.

Some activists and educators might criticize the action as too little or too late, but it’s a start. Cornell Cooperative Extension Community Educator, Jennifer Stengle, called the effort “a framework.” She said, “It sets a bar statewide and now towns and counties can add to it to address their unique conditions.”

The regulations prohibit the “sale, purchase, possession, propagation, introduction, importation, and transport of invasive species in New York” of 69 invasive plants and ban the introduction of another six plants into the wild. The regulated plants will have a warning label and if a homeowner or landscaper puts one in and it then ends up in a place where it shouldn’t be, they will be responsible for its removal and damage. The same goes for invasive wildlife.

Several popular varieties are on the regulated plant list, including Euonymus alatus or burning bush, Miscanthus sinensis or Chinese silver grass and Norway maple. Stengle said that some municipalities in Long Island had taken action against homeowners who had planted bamboo that went beyond its boundaries into public lands. The DEC will be responsible for the statewide enforcement of the regulations.

Japanese barberry is planted in a yard and then can quickly infest surrounding areas.

Japanese barberry is planted in a yard and then can quickly infest surrounding areas.

Invasive species have a significant economic impact. A widely quoted research study (Pimental et al, 2005) placed the annual U.S. cost wrought by invasive species at $120 billion in 2005 and that number is certainly higher nearly a decade later as invasive species have advanced to all parts of the country. The financial impact is felt primarily through farming losses, eradication and control efforts.

New threats are constant, too. Stengle pointed to kudzu, “the weed that ate the south” and hydrilla as two new threats that are on our county borders. Invasive plants threaten the natural beauty of our area, food security, property values, and the biodiversity of our environment. By their very nature, invasive plants are problematic because they crowd out native plants and change the ecosystem of an area. Japanese barberry, which is on the prohibited list of plants, is notoriously aggressive and can displace all the native plants in the woods as well as change the pH level of the soil, making it uninhabitable. Bottom line, don’t rush out to buy one before the regulations take effect and it’s prohibited.

In Philipstown, the town code prohibits planting invasive species in the Scenic Protection Overlay, defined as corridors along Routes 9 and 9D, the Hudson River and certain roads. I bet a lot of people don’t know about that. The code states that native species on a designated list are preferred.

When I spoke with Dave Klotzle, the wetlands inspector, he wasn’t aware of any such list. In his work, he said that he refers to the Invasive Species Council lists and requires that native species be planted within 100 feet of a wetland or stream. He cited the damage from purple loosestrife and phragmites as the biggest threats locally. Purple loosestrife, he said, “will take over and destroy open water by growing into a pond and colonizing it.” He said that the town regulations also changed in regards to construction buffers to address the problem of invasive plants. Hay bales were used previously and they contained all kinds of seeds from invasive species. Now, construction buffers are made from straw and filtration fences.

The impact of the regulations won’t be seen in commercial nurseries and landscape centers until next spring. In response to public comment, the DEC added in a one-year grace period for the sale of Japanese barberry, which is unfortunate. Growers have until next September to clear their stock and then won’t be allowed to sell it any longer.

Locally, a group of organizations work together with the Lower Hudson Partnerships for Regional Invasive Species Management or PRISM to address the threats of invasive species. They are ranking invasive species based on a number of factors to create a score that will make certain species urgent targets for eradication and control. “Our area is in the headway of the Hudson River and we have so many invasive species here,” Stengle said. “The goal now is to protect high value areas like the Great Swamp, which has rare species and great biodiversity.”

For more information about the regulations and a complete list of prohibited and regulated species, visit dec.ny.gov.

Photo by Leslie J. Mehrhoff / University of Connecticut (bugwood.org)


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