Invasive species self-defense

Three tools available to communities.

Japanese knotweed, shown here is an example of an invasive species that could be addressed by local governments. It poses a threat to property because it can break damage foundations.
Japanese knotweed, shown here is an example of an invasive species that could be addressed by local governments. It poses a threat to property because it can break damage foundations.

Invasive species pose threats to public health and safety. They can degrade the general welfare of people and property. As such, they are an appropriate target for government action. This article introduces three common government tools available to address invasive species: municipal funding, site plan review and police power ordinances so communities can defend against threats of non-native invasive weeds and other nuisance plants and animals.

The public has gained awareness that invasive species pose a threat to water resources and natural communities. In a poll about threats facing the lakes and rivers that surround and feed the great lakes, invasive species was the leading specific response. What to do with this knowledge is much more uncertain. Local government can play a role in addressing invasive species. Three distinct mechanisms are municipal funding, site plan review and police power ordinances.

Municipal funding is available at all levels of government. This option allows government to set budgeting priorities according to community goals. As concerns grow about the impacts of invasive species, municipal budgets should reflect these priorities. Funding can support efforts to educate, detect, contain, and otherwise manage invasive species. Oakland County has demonstrated that invasive species management is a legitimate municipal service and has allocated significant funding to cooperative invasive species management efforts. Prairieville Township recognized their role in helping to prevent the spread of invasive species to Gull Lake by contributing funding and other resources to create a permanent boat wash.

What is the potential impact of municipal funding? By funding activities to address invasive species, governments are able to develop programs to assist residents with eradicating invasive species. What are the limitations to municipal funding? Sometimes education programs and services are not enough. Communities may also wish to prevent introduction of invasive species and proper disposal and handling by residents with planning and zoning tools and police powers.

Site plan review is an important tool for preventing the introduction and spread of invasive species from new development. During site plan review setbacks can be enforced to assure sensitive areas are not threatened by disruptive construction activities and communities can require native species or known non-invasive cultivated species are only included in the development. What are the limitations to site plan review? Because site plan review is part of the planning aspects of government and it regulates land use, there are substantial regulations governing how elements are added to master plans so as not to over reach. This option may take more time to implement and require legal consultation. The City of Ann Arbor’s Chapter 57, Subdivision and Land Use Control, outlines the types of development that require site plan approval in the City of Ann Arbor. Implementation of this tool has allowed the City to curb the accidental introduction of invasive species into the City through mistakes in plant choices for landscaping plans in new developments.

Police power ordinances include fines and other sanctions available to compel individuals to comply with rules adopted by a community. When enforced fairly and consistently, police power ordinances can be effective for encouraging rule compliance. They are useful for built-out areas where problems with invasive species extend beyond new construction sites because they can be retroactive. That means that everyone must comply with the rules, not just new developments. What are the limitations to police power ordinances? Townships, villages and cities have broader authority than counties to adopt and enforce police power ordinances. They are expressly to be use only to protect public health, safety and general welfare of persons and property.  

Communities can move from fear of invasive species to proactively addressing the problem with three common mechanisms including police power ordinances, site plan review and municipal funding. To date, most communities in Michigan have yet to employ these tactics. Given the real threat that invasive species pose to public health, safety and general welfare of persons and property, local governments need not shy from action. Detection, prevention and proper disposal today will pay off by preventing the spread of harmful species.

For more information about municipal governance, explore the resources available at MSU Extension’s website. For more information about invasive species and to report a sighting, visit the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network.

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