Outlaw Plants

Barberry. Photo courtesy of Jil M. Swearingen, USDI National Park Service

A few years ago I sold four barberry bushes by telling a landowner that the prickly shrubs spread aggressively. “These are invasive. You don’t want these,” I advised. “Those are exactly what I want,” replied the Tupper Lake summer resident, who was seeking a low-maintenance, deer-resistant plant to fill a hole in her landscaping.

I was working as seasonal help at a Saranac Lake nursery and garden center, where barberry (Berberis thunbergii) is still sold. So is the tall prairie flower Indian cup (Silphium perfoliatum) as well as other plants that cause problems in the Adirondacks.

The manager and I talked several times about how the plants tend to spread beyond gardens and yards, widely displacing native vegetation. I handed her educational brochures from the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program, and she handed them back. The garden center chooses to offer invasive plants because they are hardy and people buy them.

But a bill currently in the New York State Senate may soon make it illegal to sell them. Bill S. 6826 would require the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Department of Agriculture and Markets to regulate the sale, purchase, possession, introduction, importation and transport of invasive species.

Some of the legislation’s wording is tricky to interpret. But rest assured: it appears that you won’t be fined for having rugosa roses in your yard.

What the bill does is focus on commercial pathways. Over time it could phase out sale of the most damaging species carried by garden and aquarium stores.

What the bill does not do is address other major vectors of invasive species; for example, it does nothing to prevent travel of invasives through manmade highways, such as canals.

Nor does it appear to have any teeth to prevent bait-bucket dumpers. The wiggle word is “intent.” The DEC would be directed to compile a list of invasive species, “which shall be unlawful to possess with the intent to sell, import, purchase, transport, or introduce.”

It’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which a law-enforcement officer could prove that a recreational angler intended to introduce, say, alewives to an Adirondack lake. Or that a recreational boater even knew what kind of weed was wrapped around his propeller.

In any case, proponents say the legislation would be an important first step as well as an awareness-raiser.

The state assembly unanimously passed a version on April 25. The bill has not yet come to the senate floor, but it is essential that senators vote before adjournment, June 21. It has been seven years since a state task force recommended regulatory action, and each year of delay is a year of prevention lost and expense increased.

Senators are under pressure by horticulture and aquarium lobbies to weaken or stall legislation. It’s essential that they also hear from their constituents that this is a timely and important issue in their home districts. Please consider contacting your senator and urging him or her to support S. 6826 and to bring the bill to a vote this session. Adirondack senator Betty Little (R–Queensbury) is a primary sponsor.

“In the Adirondacks we have really focused on the need for prevention, particularly living in a landscape that is not yet overrun by invasives,” commented Hilary Smith, director of the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program. “We are excited to see forward movement at the state level to put prevention policies into place to reduce the source of invasive species.“

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