A rule adopted Jan. 16 will make the sale, planting and distribution of 44 highly invasive species illegal in Indiana.
The Natural Resources Commission, a governing body of the Department of Natural Resources, adopted the rule, which will go into effect in 2020.
“This rule gives natural area managers hope that we might be one step closer to winning the fight against invasives,” said Bridget Harrison, executive director of Clear Lake Township Land Conservancy. “I know that this rule alone will not control or eliminate invasive species, but this is a wonderful step in the right direction.”
Invasive plants, such as garlic mustard, can multiply quickly, choking out native plants.
The decision comes with over a decade of work put in by the Invasive Plant Advisory Committee, a working group of the Indiana Invasive Species Council. Dawn Slack is the chair of that committee, following in the footsteps of Ellen Jacquart, who helped start the initiative and is currently the president of the Indiana Native Plant Society in Indianapolis.
The Indiana Invasive Species Council has assessed dozens of different plants that people have complained as invasive in Indiana.
Using an assessment tool, the council has asked questions about each species and measured how invasive is it. At the end of each assessment, the plant was graded a high, medium or low threat.
Jacquart says that when they were able to do that, they then asked the DNR to make the worst of the worst plants illegal to buy, sell or plant.
The culmination of that effort was Jan. 16’s ruling that affected 44 of the 46 plants identified by the council.
“Our thinking was, we had tried through education. We had tried getting plant sellers to give up the highly invasive plants, and it was not a rousing success,” Jacquart said.
In some cases, the species were too high of a profit maker for the companies to give them up. After taking their list to the DNR, it was ruled that all but two of those plants would qualify. When Vice President Mike Pence was in office as the governor of Indiana, he put into place the rules moratorium committee that can stop any rule from going forward unless it was an emergency. That committee contains a fiscal rule that says if a rule has more than a $500,000 impact to business, it will not go forward.
“When they added together Norway maple and callery pear, all of the plants that were in the ground and what they could be sold for, if they weren’t illegal, came to over half a million, so they got pulled out of the rule,” Jacquart said.
The rule will head now to the attorney general and then Gov. Eric Holcomb. If approved, it could go into effect this year, but likely it will be 2020 before it takes full effect. That gives growers and wholesalers time to rid themselves of stock.
Lakes in northern Indiana have been a big area of discussion when it comes to invasive species, be it on land or in the water.
Heather Harwood of the Wawasee Area Conservancy Foundation said her organization focuses a lot on the elimination of the starry stonewort, which is a problem in the lakes of the Wawasee Watershed.
“It has spread in Wawasee to the point that it has affected the native aquatic plant habitat in some areas,” Harwood said.
Each year, the Wawasee Area Conservancy Foundation applies for an Aquatic Vegetation Management grant from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Lakes and River Enhancement, which has been consistent in partnering with her group on a grant that provides for funding of starry stonewort treatment.
“For some it only takes one photo of a shoreline full of purple loosestrife for that learning moment,” Harrison said. “Others respond to the idea of attracting birds and butterflies with native plants. Some are concerned about flooding and wonder how native plants can assist there. We have several organizations in northeast Indiana that offer information, resources and would be glad to talk about native plants.”
Jacquart said it is an important distinction that this rule does not say that landowners can no longer have these 44 invasive species on their property, but that she and likeminded groups will continue to educate and encourage landowners to remove the plants.
“Some of them are very widespread. Asian bush honeysuckle is incredibly common throughout the state as an invasive, but this rule has no effect on already-occurring populations of these plants,” Jacquart said.
“If you have Asian bush honeysuckle or any of these plants on your land, this rule does not say that you have to get rid of it. It does, however, say that you may not dig up the plant and give it to someone else.”
In the past, many of these plants have been part of perennial or garden plant exchanges. That too, will no longer be allowed. Essentially, Jacquart said, anything other than leaving them in the ground will be illegal when the rule becomes official.
Southern Indiana Cooperative Invasives Management and its group the Indiana Invasive Initiative recently received a $1 million grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service to start spreading the word on the need to eliminate the existing stock of plants in the general population. Its goal, at the end of the five-year grant, is to have all 92 counties in Indiana with a local group that is working on control of these plants and spreading its message to landowners, including county and city parks. The group recently hired its first employee for the northern part of the state to start getting local groups together as it has started to do in southern Indiana.
“More and more landowners are learning the impact these species are having to the biodiversity on their land, to the health of their wood lot and are working to get rid of the evasive plants that are on their land,” Jacquart said.