Thursday, January 30, 2014

Senate Panel Cultivates Invasive Plant Species Regulations

An industry-backed proposal to consolidate invasive plant regulation under the Ohio Department of Agriculture cleared a Senate committee Wednesday.  During the Senate Agriculture Committee hearing, the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation endorsed Sen. Gayle Manning’s legislation to grant the director of Agriculture exclusive authority to regulate invasive plant species (SB 192).  The Ohio Nursery & Landscape Association has also pushed for the measure out of concern that numerous entities, including local governments, park districts and garden clubs, can currently define certain plants as invasive.  Some states have pursued regulations to ban invasive plants, according to the sponsor, who has said that efforts to limit the nursery industry to native species could increase the potential for monocultures that may be more susceptible to pests or diseases.

Prior to voting unanimously to pass the bill out of committee, members approved an amendment that clarifies cultivated plants grown for food or livestock feed could not be defined as invasive.  Sen. Manning said another successful amendment would preserve the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency's authority to consider invasive plant species when evaluating permits to impact wetlands.
Brandon Kern, director of state policy for the Ohio Farm Bureau, said the organization has long urged coordination among state and federal agencies and private landowners to help combat invasive species.  "Senate Bill 192 is a practical approach to accomplishing a portion of this goal at the state level. The first step to preventing the negative impacts of introducing invasive species in our state is to have a clear understanding of those species which truly present a threat," he said.  "It is also vitally important the term 'invasive species' is not considered synonymous with 'non-native species,'" Mr. Kern said, noting the bill would set clear standards that require a species cause economic damage or harm to environmental or human health to be defined as invasive.

Kevin Thompson, executive director of the Ohio Nursery and Landscape Association, said in written testimony that ODA was the logical choice to regulate invasive plant species since the agency already oversees nurseries, nursery stock and the noxious weed list.

Chairman Cliff Hite (R-Findlay) said after the hearing the bill would likely come to a full Senate vote next week.

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