Invasive Restrictions: Effort to Restrict Sale of Invasive Plants May Wilt in Richmond

Invasive Restrictions: Effort to Restrict Sale of Invasive Plants May Wilt in Richmond

Legislative delegation wary of running afoul of the free market.

They’re all over Mount Vernon — English ivy, Bradford pear, porcelainberry, oriental bittersweet and bamboo. They’re invasive plants, and the Mount Vernon Council Citizens Associations wants to do something about them. Last week, the council adopted a resolution asking the Virginia General Assembly to ban the sale of invasive plants. The measure also asks the Fairfax County Park Authority to develop a procedure to ensure vendors at farmers markets are prohibited from selling invasive plants.

“When these plants get into an area, they can take over,” said Al Bomann, co-chairman of the council. “And many vendors don’t even know they are invasive.”

But don’t expect the legislative delegation to rush to the clerk’s office. Back in 2003, former state Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple (D-31) attempted to introduce legislation to ban the sale of English Ivy. She even brought in a large chunk of it to a Senate committee to show members how large the trunks can get. But Senate Bill 1300 failed to get out of Local Government Committee on a 10-to-5 vote.

“The thinking was that banning the sale of English Ivy interfered with free enterprise,” said Whipple. “The prevailing attitude in Richmond is let the buyer beware.”

WHIPPLE’S EXPERIENCE has created uneasiness among the legislative delegation that now represents Mount Vernon in Richmond. When asked if she would be willing to introduce legislation banning the sale of invasive species in the wake of the Mount Vernon Council of Citizens Associations, state Sen. Toddy Puller (D-36) mentioned Whipple’s inability to get similar legislation out of committee.

“I have not seen the council’s resolution yet,” said Puller said last weekend. “But at this point, I would not be included to introduce legislation to ban the sale of invasive species.”

The problem of invasive species has been growing in recent years, creating a sense of rising concern among many members of the council. And yet, despite efforts of volunteers to remove them as part of the Invasive Management Area program, invasive species are supplanting native plants in many parts of Fairfax County — eliminating wildlife habitat and destroying trees in parkland.

“I’ve had a lifelong hatred of English Ivy,” said Del. Scott Surovell (D-44). “But if Mary Margaret Whipple wasn’t able to get something passed on this, I doubt I could.”

FOR THOSE who want to see action, the resolution is likely to have more success with the Fairfax County Park Authority than the Virginia General Assembly. If none of the members of the General Assembly are willing to introduce legislation that could be perceived as anti-capitalist in an election year, another tactic could be an education campaign to make sure that plant nurseries and farmers market vendors know the dangers of invasive plants.

“I think any kind of legislation on this would be unlikely,” said Whipple.