INVASIVE PLANTS TAKING OVER STATE
INVASIVE PLANTS TAKING OVER STATE
ECOLOGICAL EXTINCTION TASK FORCE REPORT
Government, businesses and individuals asked to help in fight
Jerr y Smith Delaware News Journal USA TODAY NETWORK
If Sen. Stephanie Hansen and members of the Ecological Extinction Task Force have it their way, Delawareans will be offered incentives to buy and plant native species and businesses will face a phased-in ban on the sale of invasive plants.
A report by the task force unveiled Tuesday warns that the increase of invasive plant species and a rapid decline of wildlands are causing severe damage to the state’s ecosystem.
The Middletown lawmaker called on government, businesses and individuals alike to help fix the problem.
“It starts with what we plant in our own backyard,” Hansen said at the Ashland Nature Center in Hockessin. “In such a small state, each of us can make a huge difference just by making simple changes at home.”
“It starts with what we plant in our own backyard.”
Sen. Stephanie Hansen
Middletown lawmaker talking about invasive plant species
Visitors walk the trails of Ashland Nature Center, where the Ecological Extinction Task Force’s final recommendations were unveiled. SUCHAT PEDERSON/DELAWARE NEWS JOURNAL
The trout lily is barely surviving the non-native plants surrounding it. DELAWARE NEWS JOURNAL
INVASIVE PLANTS TAKING OVER STATE
The final report targets improving land management practices, safeguarding local ecosystems and reversing a trajectory that has seen nearly half of Delaware’s native plants either threatened or already gone.
Common invasive species include Asian varieties of honeysuckle and stiltgrass, Norway maples, and rapidly spreading weeds that outcompete native plants and quickly dominate their surroundings. These species do not contribute to the local food supply and are killing off plants that do.
One study cited by the report shows that 79 percent of plants in Delaware’s suburbs are introduced, non-native species.
More than 80 recommendations for reversing the trend were introduced by Hansen and other members of the task force.
Hansen said one of the most striking conclusions of the work compiled by 19 task force members was the realization that every Delawarean has an important role to play in not only conserving but in bringing back the state’s native species.
“These recommendations couldn’t come at a more important time,” Hansen said. “Over the past few decades, we have actively and unwittingly introduced dozens of non-native and invasive species — many of which we were surprised to recognize from our own yards and local nurseries — into this area. Those species are threatening damage to the foundations of our food chain that would be catastrophic to our ecosystem. We have to take action before it’s too late.”
Hansen said the bad news is that the state is already behind in addressing the issue, but the good news is that it’s not too late to change.
The task force will present its recommendations to the General Assembly for consideration during the 2018 legislative session.
Policy changes also may be needed in local governments.
Corrective steps recommended in the report, include:
• A sustained educational campaign targeted at everyone from students to homeowners and landscape designers
• Government leadership by example, including
public land management reform
• Full funding of existing open space programs
• Higher deer harvests
• The creation of Native Species Commission to implement many of the recommendations and report annually to the General Assembly Nearly all of these steps focus on the replenishment of native plant species, which have been displaced over time by lawns, non-native ornamental plants and invasive species.
About three in every four plants sold by local wholesale and retail nurseries are non-native or invasive, the report says.
“This is a huge problem we as a state are unaware of,” Hansen said. “It’s important we get the word out and we educate everybody. We have to get our arms around it.”
Hansen said the idea for the task force came from a presentation about the decrease in local species by University of Delaware entomology professor Doug Tallamy.
Tallamy said the trend has caused rapid declines or disappearances of:
• 20 percent of local fish species
• 41 percent of our bird species that depend on forest cover are rare or absent • 50 percent reduction in population size of many of our bird species over 50 years
• 34 percent loss of dragonfly species
• 31 percent loss of our reptile and amphibian species Tallamy said that Delaware’s protected natural areas — parks and preserves — are not large enough to sustain nature and that natural areas have been fragmented into smaller areas supporting smaller populations, rendering species more vulnerable to extinction. “Every time we reduce a species’ population or force it to local extinction, we degrade our own life-support systems,” he said. “We must continue to protect the few remaining natural areas around us. We are not going to survive on this planet if we continue to lose species.”
Tallamy’s research shows that 90 percent of herbivorous insects have evolved to eat specific vegetation from their native habitat. The loss of their food supply has resulted in cascading food shortages for larger species, including birds, reptiles, and fish. This is coupled with the loss and fragmentation of woodlands and animal habitats around the state.
“I’ve been talking about this for 10 years, but talk is cheap,” he said. “This (task force) is action. This is what we need.”
The task force includes members of DNREC, Delaware’s Nature Center, Delaware Center for Inland Bays, Kent and New Castle counties, the Nature Conservancy in Delaware, state lawmakers and various state associations like the Home Builders Association of Delaware and the Delaware Association of Realtors.
Rep. Debra Heffernan, D-Brandywine Hundred, said the report’s recommendations are critical to restoring biodiversity in Delaware. “I am pleased we are focusing attention on the fact that Delaware has lost valuable birds, reptiles, insects and plant life, local species that help improve the health and environment of our state,” she said. “We need to think about what impact the recommendations will have and what impact not following them will have.”
Reach Jerry Smith at jsmith17@dela wareonline.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JerrySmithTNJ.
The Ecological Extinction Task Force’s final recommendations were unveiled during a press conference at Ashland Nature Center. The task force was convened because nearly half of Delaware’s native plants are either threatened or are already gone from the state. SUCHAT PEDERSON/DELAWARE NEWS JOURNAL