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Assembly Democratic Bill Package to Promote the Use of Native Plants and Seeds Clears Assembly Panel

Moving to better protect and preserve the health of New Jersey’s environment, a package of four bills to raise awareness for and encourage the planting of vegetative species native to New Jersey was advanced by the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee Monday.

“Plants that are native to New Jersey and the whole Northeast, such as black-eyed susans, royal ferns and wild geraniums, offer enormous environmental and economic benefits,” said Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling (D-Monmouth), chair of the Agriculture Committee and sponsor of all four bills. “Native plants help conserve and filter water, provide habitats for wildlife, protect soil resources and reduce the costs and environmental impacts associated with pesticides and fertilizers. It makes sense to prioritize native vegetation when planting in the Garden State.”

The first bill (A-4492) sponsored by Houghtaling and Assemblyman John McKeon would create the “Jersey Native Plants Program” in the Department of Agriculture. The program would encourage and promote the sale of New Jersey native plants at retail garden centers and nurseries; increase consumer awareness of the important role of native plants in the ecosystem through advertising campaigns and marketing programs; provide for the dissemination of information about the variety and availability of New Jersey native plants; and create a labeling program to identify native plants as “Jersey natives” similar to the Jersey Fresh and Jersey Grown programs.

“Roughly one third of New Jersey’s 2,100 native plant species are endangered or ranked as of special concern by the State’s Natural Heritage Program,” said McKeon (D-Essex, Morris). “Urbanization, pollution and invasive plant species all harm our native plants. We must do all we can to preserve Jersey native plants and the benefits they bring to our environment.”

The second bill (A-5014), sponsored by Houghtaling, would direct the Departments of Environment Protection and Agriculture to establish a grant program for institutions of higher education to support the development and production of native seeds for use in State land management, roadside landscaping, reforestation, habitat restoration, site remediation and other purposes.

Another measure (A-1676), also sponsored by Houghtaling, would require every State entity to plant native plants or ecologically appropriate plant species when undergoing land management, reforestation and habitat efforts.

“Our goal is to incentivize everyone to use native plant seeds in vegetation projects, from colleges to businesses to everyday New Jerseyans,” said Houghtaling. “We’ll not only increase our native plant population, but we’ll be improving the state’s environmental health in the process.”

Under the final bill in the package (A-5015), plant nurseries in New Jersey would be required to make available a brochure of information about the benefits of native plant species and problems associated with invasive plant species. Nurseries could either make print copies of the brochure developed by the Department of Agriculture available, or post a sign that meets certain requirements. The same information would be made available on the Department of Agriculture’s website.

The measure is sponsored by Houghtaling and Assemblyman Gordon Johnson.

“When someone goes to a nursery to buy plants for their personal garden or project, they should know the risks of buying invasive species and the benefits of growing Jersey native plants,” said Johnson (D-Bergen). “There’s no better way to make sure consumers have all the right information than by making it available at the nursery where they’ll be choosing their plants.”

The bill package now goes to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.