"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
Quinn said that a more transparent listing
process would be based on a scientific process developed by the
USDA and 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."
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 A. Bryan Endres,
U of I professor of agricultural law.
"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.
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," she
said. "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
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
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
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 researchers 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
"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
[to top of second column]
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.
"But when you have regulatory uncertainty, with 50 states each
doing their own thing, those are barriers to the expansion of the
industry," Endres said. "The big developers, who are responsible
players in the industry, would be in favor of this regulation as
long as it's science-based and legitimate. They don't want
individuals to be able to go to their local weed commissioner and
complain, ‘My neighbor is going to plant Miscanthus and I heard on
the Internet somewhere that it's invasive,' and it gets added to the
state's noxious weed list. That's not a good way to do business and
to develop a new industrial model."
Endres said that developers also do not want to spend a lot of
money to commercialize a biofuels plant that's going to cause
trouble later on -- they want to do that analysis beforehand and
decide which plants to invest more money into.
Quinn said: "We want to encourage developers to commercialize
only those species that will carry a low risk of invasion. During
their research and development phase, they would petition the
invasive species council to do the weed risk assessment on the plant
that they're proposing. If it's not high-risk, then they can do
field trials to rule out invasiveness. This due diligence not only
protects the environment but also protects developers from potential
losses due to findings of negligence down the road. Our plan gives
them an opportunity to develop something safe early in the process."
Quinn said that biofuels crops such as Miscanthus would be
subject to the list. The current cultivars that are being sold for
production are sterile, but new hybrids that are being developed are
fertile, so she said there could be the potential for confusion.
"We want to shift developers' incentives to make sure that
they're doing an assessment of the invasiveness before they go too
far down the development stage and we have another kudzu on our
hands," Endres said.
Quinn, who is a postdoctoral research associate at the Energy
Biosciences Institute at the University of Illinois, conducted the
research along with Endres and James McCubbins, both U of I
attorneys who specialize in agricultural law, and Jacob Barney, a
weed scientist at Virginia Tech.
"Navigating the ‘Noxious' and ‘Invasive' Regulatory Landscape:
Suggestions for Improved Regulation" was published in the February
issue of Biosciences. The research was funded by the Energy
The Energy Biosciences Institute, funded by the energy company
BP, is a research collaboration that includes the University of
Illinois, the University of California at Berkeley and Lawrence
Berkeley National Laboratory. It is dedicated to applying the
biological sciences to the challenges of producing sustainable,
renewable energy for the world.
news release received from the
University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and