(TRENTON) – A six-bill legislative package sponsored by Assembly Democrats Marlene Caride, Bonnie Watson Coleman, John Burzichelli, Tim Eustace, Gilbert “Whip” Wilson and Celeste Riley to protect and commemorate animals and plants that are native to New Jersey was released Monday by the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee.
The first bill (A-2913), sponsored by Caride and Watson Coleman, designates the Black Swallowtail butterfly as the official State Butterfly of New Jersey. This large, black, yellow and blue butterfly is indigenous to New Jersey and can be found in each of the state’s 21 counties.
“Many states across the country have designated an official state butterfly, but New Jersey, despite its great wealth of indigenous butterflies, has never made such a designation,” said Caride (D-Bergen/Passaic). “New Jersey is often associated with our urban landscapes, but there is plenty of natural beauty that is unique to New Jersey that should be acknowledged and celebrated.”
“By designating the Black Swallowtail the state butterfly, we not only celebrate the inhabitants, however small, that make New Jersey unique, but recognize the important role that butterflies and other pollinators play in our agriculture and the ecosystem,” said Watson Coleman (D-Mercer/Hunterdon).
The second bill (A-3125), sponsored by Caride, would prohibit the sale, planting, propagation or distribution of certain invasive plants in the state, except for scientific or educational purposes. The bill provides that a violation of the prohibition would constitute a disorderly persons offense, and could subject the violator to a civil penalty of up to $100 for a first offense, up to $200 for a second offense, and up to $500 for a third or subsequent offense. Lastly, the bill authorizes the Department of Agriculture to seek injunctive relief to prohibit or prevent a violation of the bill.
“These plants are called “invasive” for a reason. They cause serious ecological disturbances, can alter habitats and reduce biodiversity. Our native plants are especially vulnerable to these pesky outsiders,” said Caride. “Invasive species are mainly introduced by human action. Prohibiting the sale and planting of these nuisance plants will help protect our natural and agricultural heritage.”
The third bill (A-3133), sponsored by Burzichelli, would require the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection to establish a private wildlife habitat certification program.
“Maintaining a balance between development and preservation of natural resources is especially important in a state as densely populated as ours,” said Burzichelli (D-Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem). “This bill allows interested individuals to create habitats on their private properties for animal species native to New Jersey without fear of legal repercussions.”
In establishing the program, the commissioner would be authorized to consider any standards used by recognized conservation organizations to certify properties as suitable wildlife habitat. A person who registers a property certified under the program would be entitled to an affirmative defense against any liability for a violation of a municipal ordinance under which the “certified private wildlife habitat,” or any component thereof, is deemed a nuisance or an otherwise unlawful condition.
The fourth bill (A-3354), sponsored by Eustace, would establish an “Integrated Roadside Vegetation Management Program” in the Department of Environmental Protection to encourage the preservation and repopulation of native plants and wildflowers along the roadsides of New Jersey.
“Roadsides serve as physical barriers, sound barriers, and highway beautifiers and provide refuge for many animals, insects, and plants native to New Jersey,” said Eustace (D-Bergen/Passaic). “Having a coordinated effort by state and public and private entities to include native plants and wildflowers in the management of the roadsides will create biodiversity, improve scenic value, preserve wildlife habitats, prevent soil erosion, and provide other environmental benefits to the state.”
The fifth bill (A-3355), sponsored by Wilson, would require the Commissioner of Environmental Protection to establish a basic training course for pesticide applicators and operators to avoid, reduce or eliminate the impact pesticides have on pollinating bee populations in New Jersey.
“Pollinating bees are important to New Jersey’s working farms producing blueberries, cranberries, tomatoes, and peppers. Pollinating bees are vital to the health of diverse ecosystems, because the fruits and seeds derived from bee pollination are a major part of the diet of all birds and mammals, including over 30 percent of the foods and beverages that we consume,” said Wilson (D-Camden/Gloucester). “This bill would make certain that commercial pesticide applicators are trained to avoid reduce or eliminate the impact pesticides have on pollinating bee populations in New Jersey.”
The sixth and last measure (A-JR60), sponsored by Wilson and Riley, designates June of each year as “Native Plant Appreciation Month” in order to celebrate the diversity and value of New Jersey’s native plants, recognize the critical role they play in the ecosystem, and encourage citizens to learn more about native plants and how to protect them.
“New Jersey has about 2,100 native plant species. Unfortunately, studies have shown that we are rapidly losing our native plants to development and urbanization, pollution, and harmful invasive species,” said Wilson (D-Camden/Gloucester). “Raising awareness about the state’s diverse native flora will hopefully encourage residents to learn about our native plants and how to protect them.”
“Nineteen globally rare plants have their largest or most viable populations in New Jersey, and nine plants have been documented only in New Jersey and do not occur anywhere else on Earth. That is worth celebrating,” said Riley (D-Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem). “The Garden State nickname is no fluke. The more we learn about our native plants and their habitats the better able we will be to protect them.”