TRENTON – The Senate passed legislation sponsored by Senators Linda Greenstein and Bob Smith aimed at combatting the spread of invasive plant species by establishing a regulatory process for their sale, distribution, importation, and propagation. The bill would also re-establish the New Jersey Invasive Species Council to examine and revise the state’s Strategic Management Plan for Invasive Species.
“Regulating the sale and distribution of invasive plant species is a critical component to combatting the spread of invasive species more broadly. Not only do invasive plants crowd out native plant species, which in turn threatens the food source for native animals, but they also often play a large role in the spread of invasive insects,” said Senator Greenstein (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “For example, the spread of the now infamous spotted lanternfly is heavily facilitated by the ‘tree of heaven’, its preferred host, which is an aggressively invasive plant that was first introduced in the United States for urban landscaping during the late 1700s.”
New Jersey is one of just a handful of states that currently have no statewide regulations or strategy to ban or contain the spread of invasive species. New Jersey is now home to dozens of widespread invasive plants, with over 150 other invasive plants that are considered “emerging” with the potential to become too widespread to contain.
The impact of invasive plants on native flora is immense, especially when they introduce new insects to the environment. According to a 2018 report from the New Jersey Forest Service, the emerald ash borer threatens to kill as many as 99 percent of the ash trees in New Jersey. Invasive insects like the ash borer are often first introduced to the United States by either overseas shipping materials or foreign plants that are shipped and sold at home improvement retailers, plants that are often marketed for their resiliency and ability to quickly grow in a homeowner’s yard.
“The spread of invasive plant species is a real, and unfortunately difficult to observe threat,” said Senator Smith (D-Middlesex/Somerset), who is also the Chair of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee. “As the tree of heaven and the emerald ash borer show, the consequences of their spread can take decades, or even centuries, to become fully realized. This bill will establish more stringent regulations to control their spread at the source, which is usually legal imports, before they become too widespread to effectively combat, and re-establish a council to develop a comprehensive plan for managing the invasive species found in our state.”
Under the bill, S-2186, the sale, distribution, import, export, or other propagation of invasive plants would be prohibited without a valid permit issued by the Department of Agriculture (DOA). The DOA would maintain and regularly update a list of regulated invasive species with input from the newly re-established New Jersey Invasive Species Council (NJISC). The NJISC would examine and revise the state’s strategy for managing invasive species, and would be required to submit the revised plan no later than two years after the effective date of the bill.
The bill would additionally establish penalties for violation of its provisions. A first offense would be subject to a warning, a second offense would be subject to a $1,000 civil penalty, up to $2,000 for a third offense, and up to $5,000 for a fourth or subsequent offense. The DOA would be additionally authorized to seize and destroy an invasive plant species that forms a basis of a violation as necessary to prevent an ongoing violation.
The bill was passed in a 35-0 vote.