Depending upon where you live, you may not have heard much about invasive species until an article featuring Willem Drews and Ray Chattin of Knox County, Ind., appeared on the March 2018 cover of Indiana Prairie Farmer and on the website. The word is out now, and people are recognizing invasive species as a growing problem statewide.
“We’ve been fighting them in Knox County for a long time,” says Ray Chattin, a farmer, timber producer and Knox County Soil and Water Conservation District supervisor. Chattin is also on the Indiana State Soil Conservation Board.
“They’re a real problem in woodlots and timber stands,” he says. “Once you know what you’re looking for, it’s easy to see them as you drive along highways bordered by timber.”
With support of local officials, Knox County SWCD hired Willem Drews as a resource person to educate people and carry out control efforts against invasive species. “We’ve had work days where we remove invasive species from a woodlot,” Drews says. He also put together materials that help landowners and homeowners identify invasive species.
Last fall, local government in Knox County passed an ordinance that would prohibit the sale of invasive species. “Local officials were very supportive,” Drews says. “There is a grace period. The actual ban goes into effect in 2020.”
Landscapers and those that sell plants and trees to homeowners would be affected first, Drews notes. He has held educational meetings about the ordinance, and only one landscaper expressed concern. However, the real test will come when the rubber meets the road, and the ordinance goes into effect.
Chattin adds that the biggest challenge could come from big-box stores. Decisions about the plants they sell are often made at district or corporate levels.
Nevertheless, Drews intends to enforce the ordinance. Violators could face fines.
“There are 64 species of plants and/or trees that will no longer be allowed to be sold in Knox County,” Drews explains. “Korean lespedeza and tall fescue were exempted because they’re used in conservation plantings.
“We’re not asking homeowners to remove Bradford pear trees or burning bushes already in the landscape,” he says. “Instead, we’re working on the proactive end, making sure species like these are no longer sold in Knox County.”
The Knox County SWCD isn’t the only one worried about invasive species. The Dubois County SWCD rented billboards in 2018 showing Bradford pear trees with the message that they’re harmful because they spread easily into woods.
In January, the Natural Resources Commission decided to proceed with the proposed terrestrial plant rule sponsored by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. This rule would ban sale of certain invasive species statewide. It awaits approval from Indiana’s attorney general and governor.
However, this rule would prohibit sale of 44 species, not 64. Unless the Legislature passes language preventing counties to have stricter ordinances than the state, Drews expects the Knox County ban to take hold next year.