Tips so that biofuel plants don’t become weeds
In the United States, only species listed on state or federal noxious weed lists are regulated, and those lists are often biased toward species that affect agricultural crops. Conversely, invasive plant council lists include species that affect natural landscapes but have no regulatory clout. After comparing the lists and how they are created, researchers at the University of Illinois’s Energy Biosciences Institute have developed some suggestions on how to improve the regulation of all invasive plant species, including new biofuels plants.
“We’re hoping to reform the way that the lists are developed,” said U of I invasive plant ecologist Lauren Quinn. “State Departments of Agriculture usually put those lists together. We’d like to see greater representation from other stakeholders, such as Departments of Natural Resources or Transportation, which deal with invasive species in rights-of-way. We’d also like a council of invasive species experts to advise the groups that are creating the lists so that the process is science based,” she said.
Quinn said that a more transparent listing process would be based on a scientific process developed by the USDA known as the weed risk assessment. “The process is a way of looking at the potential invasiveness of a new species,” she said. “That potential is largely based on whether they’re invasive elsewhere. It was originally developed in Australia where they have a very rigorous quarantine system. The process has recently been modified and updated by the USDA, and we are recommending that regulatory lists be reformed using the new system,” Quinn said.
Using the system, the invasive species council in each state would assess the plants that are currently on the list and any plants that are petitioned to be on the list and rank them according to their potential invasiveness. “High-risk species would be regulated on a new noxious list, but low-risk species would not be regulated,” Quinn said. “Species for which insufficient data is available for the assessment would be placed on a ‘caution’ list that would demand further investigation prior to release.”
Quinn and her team recommend that field trials be done on “caution” list species before they’re released into the environment. The team also proposes a negligence-liability scheme in case the plant turns out to be invasive.
“Right now, even if you know that a plant is highly invasive, you can plant it or sell it and there are no consequences at all, unless it’s on the noxious weed list,” said U of I professor of agricultural law A. Bryan Endres. “Most of the regulation is directed exclusively at what might impact agriculture, but horticulturalists are developing new plants for home landscaping that might well be highly invasive. For economic reasons, the horticultural industry has a strong incentive to keep these new plants off of the noxious weed list when some varieties really they should be regulated,” he said.