Delaware Attacks Ecological Extinction

The current extinction rate is possibly 100 times great than normal and humans are definitely responsible. So what are we doing about it? Stephanie Hansen, a Delaware State Senator got the state senate to convene a task force to address this issue in Delaware.  The Task Force began in July with a presentation from UD’s Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home and The Living Landscape, both books that address the loss of species diversity and possible solutions. The Task Force submitted recommendations to the Governor, President Pro Tempore of the Senate and Speaker of the House on December 1, 2017. There were 19 members representing a wide variety of stakeholders including state senators and representatives, County administrators, DNREC, DDA, Delaware Association of Realtors, DE Farm Bureau, Chamber of Commerce, Home Builders Association and a number of environmental organizations on the Task Force. I represented the Delaware Nursery and Landscape Association.

The Task Force findings include seven major areas:

  1. Education – The public has an important role in the prevention of extinction of local species and education is key to understanding.
  2. Incentivize Private Landowners – Incentives taking the form of money, public recognition and ease of permitting encourage the removal of invasive species and their replacement with native species as well as the replacement of non-native species with native species.
  3. Government Leads by Example – Government facilities should be landscaped and managed with native species.
  4. Legislation Affecting Development – Policy changes may be necessary at the state and local level.
  5. Funding Open Space Program at Statutory Level – The Open Space Program provides opportunities to stem the loss of native species.
  6. Legislation to Prohibit the Sale of Invasive Species – The sale of invasive species is an important factor contributing to the loss of native species in Delaware.
  7. Deer Management – The proliferation of deer is an important factor contributing to the loss of native species in Delaware.

Education is by far the highest priority, with 22 individual recommendations including developing curricula for school children; promoting demonstration gardens; providing public presentation; encouraging landscape contractors to remove, manage and control invasive plants and replant with native species; and promoting the Delaware Livable Lawns Program.

There are recommendations to create incentives for reducing lawn area and replacing it with native plants.  Pollinator and other insect habitat gardens are encouraged.

All Delaware state facilities should set the example by reducing lawn and replacing it with native or pollinator plants and revising land management practices to be more pollinator friendly. DelDOT should take the opportunity for roadside right of way to provide habitat and reduce mowing.

A significant recommendation is to make the sale of invasive plants illegal in Delaware with an appropriate phase-out period, Invasive plants are defined as those on the Delaware Invasive Species Council plant list, which must be reviewed and amended.

The final recommendation is the formation of a Delaware Native Species Commission by the General Assembly to implement the 78 recommendations of the Task Force and report back to the General Assembly.

While there is a long way to go before implementation, this is good news for Delawareans and especially the nursery and landscape industry.  By moving away from mowed lawn, we create opportunities for the nursery and landscape professionals. Anyone can ride on the back of a lawn mower, but skilled professionals will be required to plant and manage landscapes. Industry members have called for a “leveling of the playing field” for a while now when it comes to a few key invasive plants still bought and sold in the trade. Once they are illegal to sell, we will be in step with other Northeastern states who are reducing the introduction of these plants that destroy natural areas. I hope Delaware’s legislature takes the Task Force recommendations seriously and starts the implementation process to save Delaware’s remaining wildlife and all the ecosystem services it provides to us, like clean water, clean air, wildlife habitat and much-needed human engagement in the landscape.

Callery pears are one of the species that might be banned from sale in Delaware. This tree has choked our roadsides and while it has attractive white flowers, it supports no native insects and chokes out important native species like serviceberry and black gum that should be populating Delaware’s forest edges.

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