Report issues more than 80 recommendations to reverse course
DOVER - A report from a statewide task force warns that the proliferation of invasive plant species and a rapid decline of wildlands are causing severe damage to Delaware’s ecosystem, and calls on government, businesses, and individuals alike to help fix the problem.
The Ecological Extinction Task Force’s final report, published Friday, draws on months of hearings and expert testimony to offer dozens of recommendations aimed at improving land management practices, safeguarding local ecosystems, and reversing a trajectory that has brought swaths of local species near or past the point of extinction.
Sen. Stephanie Hansen, D-Middletown, championed the issue in the General Assembly and chaired the task force.
“These recommendations couldn’t come at a more important time,” said Hansen. “Over the past few decades, we have actively and unwittingly introduced dozens of non-native and invasive species—many of which we were surprised to recognize from our own yards and local nurseries—into this area. Those species are threatening damage to the foundations of our food chain that would be catastrophic to our ecosystem. We have to take action before it’s too late.”
“The bad news is that we’re already behind the ball. But the good news is that it’s not too late to change and, in such a small state, each of us can make a huge difference just by making simple changes at home. Our mission now is to change how we perceive this issue, educate Delawareans on the problem, and create incentives for them to be part of the solution so that our children and grandchildren can enjoy the same environment that we knew growing up.”
Hansen was inspired by research from Dr. Douglas Tallamy, a professor in the University of Delaware's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. A leading scholar on local extinction, Tallamy stressed that human life depends on biodiversity and that we have driven half of all plant and animal species on the planet into extinction in just the past few decades.
“For our own good, we must abandon the age-old notion that humans are ‘here’ and nature is someplace else,” said Tallamy. “Every time we reduce a species’ population, or force it to local extinction, we degrade our own life-support systems. We must end such short-sighted treatment of the life around us. The wild things around us control pests, pollinate our plants, produce oxygen, manage our watersheds, sequester carbon, build top soil, and create all of the other ecosystem services that enable humans to survive on earth. And ecosystems do these things better when they house more species.”
“We must continue to protect the few remaining natural areas around us, but now we must do more than that: we must learn to share our residential, corporate and public properties with other species, and we must create landscapes that enhance local ecosystems rather than destroy them. The recommendations from Senator Hansen’s Extinction Task Force will help us do all of these things.”
The report’s recommendations include calls for a number of corrective steps, including:
Nearly all of these steps focus on the replenishment of native plant species, which have been displaced over time by lawns, non-native ornamental plants, and invasive species. One forthcoming study cited by the report shows that 79 percent of plants in Delaware’s suburbs are introduced, non-native species. Another shows roughly three in every fourplants sold by local wholesale and retail nurseries are non-native or invasive.
Common invasive species include Asian varieties of honeysuckle and stiltgrass, Norway maples, and rapidly spreading weeds that outcompete native plants and quickly dominate their surroundings. These species do not contribute to the local food supply and are killing off plants that do.
Tallamy’s research shows that 90 percent of herbivorous insects have evolved to eat specific vegetation from their native habitat. The loss of their food supply has resulted in cascading food shortages for larger species, including birds, reptiles, and fish. Coupled with the loss and fragmentation of woodlands and animal habitats around the state, this has caused rapid declines or disappearances of:
Rep. Debra Heffernan, D-Brandywine Hundred, said the report’s recommendation are critical to restoring biodiversity in Delaware.
“I am pleased we are focusing attention on the fact that Delaware has lost valuable birds, reptiles, insects and plant life, local species that help improve the health and environment of our state,” said Rep. Heffernan. “I know from my role as environmental toxicologist, humans do not live in a bubble; biodiversity directly impacts our air quality, ability to control pests and soil enrichment for crops. This task force set out to address the drivers of ecological extinction and ways to foster biodiversity in Delaware, and I hope we can encourage future discussions as these recommendations are considered.”
Rep. Ronald Gray, R-Selbyville echoed that praise and efforts to educate residents of the state about the threats posed by invasive species.
“I enjoyed serving on the Ecological Extinction task force over the past few months. I learned quite a bit about how non-native and invasive plants can affect native plants and animals in Delaware,” said Rep. Gray. “I support an ongoing effort to educate the public and work with businesses in the landscape disciplines to provide the best choices for consumers that will protect and maintain the viability of native plants and animals in our state. I thank all those that served on the task force for their time and valuable input. I want to especially thank Senator Hansen, Jennifer Parish and Ashley Kennedy for all their efforts in preparing and disseminating minutes and supporting documents throughout the task force process.”
Brian Winslow, Executive Director of the Delaware Nature Society, thanked the task force for its efforts and stressed the need for national leaders to take action.
"Today, one third of all wildlife species in the United States are at increased risk of extinction, and while we recognize the need for a national solution to this issue, we applaud the hard work and dedication of Senator Hansen and the Statewide Ecological Extinction Task Force to address the threat posed by invasive species, habitat loss, and sea-level rise."