Tips so that biofuel plants don’t become weeds
Quinn first noticed the discrepancies in the regulated noxious weed lists and the nonregulated invasive plant lists while working in California. “Some of the really important invasive plants that impact natural areas in California were not on the noxious list. That seemed strange to me. Why would you put together this list but not include the species that really mattered? For some really problematic plants like yellow star thistle, landowners are not required to do anything. It made no sense to me,” Quinn said.
In comparing the lists from all 50 states, the researchers found that Montana has a noxious weeds law that is well enforced. “If a noxious weed is found on private property, it’s the responsibility of the landowner to eradicate it,” Quinn said.
As for the other states, Connecticut and Massachusetts came out on top. “They’re listening to their invasive species council,” Quinn said. “Other states have an invasive species council in place, but they’re not very active or they’re not being consulted.”
Illinois and the other states in the Midwest are not doing a good job in terms of identifying invasive plants and consolidating them on one list, she said.
Quinn said that they hope to bring awareness to the discrepancies between the two lists, and ideally to reform those lists so that plant species that are invasive in natural areas are included. “There isn’t a lot of protection for natural areas against invasive species despite the fact that there is an executive order requiring federal agencies to prevent and control invasive species. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of enforcement,” Quinn said.
Quinn’s job at the University of Illinois’s Energy Biosciences Institute has been to investigate the potential for invasiveness in new non-native crops that are being developed for biofuels. “I’ve been looking at how they are likely to disperse in the environment and whether they are able to establish in areas outside of cultivation,” she said.
Will the team’s recommendations threaten the development of new biofuels crops? Endres said no, that the recommendations offer protection for the industry rather than punishment.
“The biggest threat to the biofuels industry is unsubstantiated accusations whether they relate to greenhouse gas savings or individuals claiming that new biomass varieties will all be invasive species,” Endres said. “And to the extent that the industry has a solid regulation that governs it, it creates certainty within the industry, which then allows them to invest the billions of dollars it’s going to take to do this.