Governor signs noxious weed law

Governor Linda Lingle signed a bill into law this week that will regulate the importation and sale of plants harmful to public health, agriculture or the environment.

According to House Bill 2517, which was signed into Act 40, the Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture is responsible for maintaining a list of restricted plants and is currently updating that list.

The old law allowed the HDOA to regulate the importation and movement of the restricted plants, but the HDOA had no authority to regulate the sale of restricted plants.

Under the new law, the HDOA is allowed to prohibit the sale of noxious weeds in the state and allow the importation of noxious weeds for research purposes only.

“The new law allows the movement of the weeds on the Noxious Weed List by permit from HDOA and only for research purposes,” Janelle Sane-ishi, public information officer for HDOA, said. “If a research group wanted to do research on control of these weeds, they would need to apply for a permit from HDOA Plant Quarantine Branch.”

The new law also allows plants to be placed on the restricted plant list because the plant itself could be damaging to agriculture, horticulture, the environment, animal or public health.

“The new law will provide HDOA with enforcement authority to help reduce the likelihood of further dispersal of noxious weeds through commercial activity,” Saneishi said. “Anyone who intentionally sells a restricted plant could be charged with a misdemeanor and fined not less than $5,000 and not more than $20,000.”

According to Neil Reimer, HDOA plant pest control branch chief, Act 40 adds language to the HDOA’s Plant Quarantine Branch’s statutes.

“The restricted plant list automatically includes all plants on the Plant Pest Control’s list of noxious weeds for control,” Reimer said. “The act also regulates the importation of noxious weeds.”

Keren Gundersen, project manager of the Kaua‘i Invasive Species Committee, said the new law “gives teeth” to the current noxious weed list.

“As it stands now, even though a plant may be on the list, it is not illegal to sell,” Gundersen said. “By making them illegal to import or sell, it sends a consistent message to horticulturists, nurserymen, landscapers, and the general public regarding the threats that these plants pose.”

Gundersen said when a plant makes it on the noxious weed list, it is for very valid reasons.

“Fireweed (Senecio madagascariensis) is toxic to cattle, Miconia (Miconia calvenscens) threatens the watershed, Salvinia (Salvinia molesta) chokes out the waterways because of its biomass, fountain grass (Pennesitum setaceum) is a serious fire hazard,” Gundersen said. “Many different agencies and groups across the state often target these plants for removal.”

For a weed to be designated noxious, “they need to meet five criteria as set up in the Chapter 68 rules,” Reimer said. “Once designated as a noxious weed, the department must set up control or eradication programs for the weed.”

According to the HDOA Chapter 68 Noxious Weed Rules, criteria for noxious weed designation include plant reproduction, growth characteristics, detrimental effects, control and distribution and spread.

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