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Kudzu, Invasive Species and the Law

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Last weekend I was pulling English ivy off the corner of my house where it had grown over from the neighbor’s yard, and I reflected on the large number of invasive plants I see growing all over the national capital area: kudzu, porcelain berry, water hyacinth, callery pear, and tree of heaven.  I wondered what the law has done to help with this “ecological plague”.

Kudzu is a prime example of this problem; it’s also known as “the vine that ate the South” for its rapid-fire, ubiquitous spread across the southeastern United States.  Kudzu (Pueraria montana var. lobata) is a legume, originally from Japan. The Soil Conservation Service encouraged Southern farmers to plant it in the 1930s and 1940s as a cover crop to add nitrogen to soil depleted by cotton crops. In theory, it was a good idea; in practice, kudzu is a non-native species that has no natural predators, grows as much as one foot per day (or 60 feet per season) and can’t be baled for winter livestock food. It will choke out native species and planned crops by covering available light and it can continue to thrive in times of low rainfall, so it is difficult to kill and doesn’t die on its own easily.

Kudzu growing on tree in Virginia [photo by J. Davis]
Since kudzu and other invasives choke out planned crops and cover buildings, eradication is necessary and expensive.  States contribute much to the eradication effort in the U.S. In the backyard of the Library of Congress, the Maryland State Highway Administration is currently working on a $2 million invasive species eradication project around the Capital Beltway (I-495) that is projected to end in 2018, and Maryland and Virginia do active outreach through their agriculture departments. The State of Maryland has laws prohibiting noxious weeds, as does the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Other states, such as Connecticut, are working on legislation to fine planters and nurseries for planting and selling non-native and invasive species, like bamboo.

The federal government has made efforts to eradicate invasives as well.  Executive Order 13112 of February 3, 1999 (Invasive Species) established the Invasive Species Council and President Obama updated that order with Executive Order—Safeguarding the Nation from the Impact of Invasive Species in December 2016. The order references the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, as amended , the Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act of 1990, the Plant Protection Act,  and the Lacey Act, as amended, all of which empower federal agencies to take actions to protect citizens from the invasives and their deleterious effects.  As the National Park Service has noted, “Invasive species and habitat destruction … are running neck-to-neck as the leading causes of environmental despoliation and loss of biological diversity worldwide.”  Invasives such as kudzu cost businesses, governments, and individuals millions of dollars in eradication and mitigation efforts, and legislation can be used to address the problem as well as backhoes. If you’re interested in reading more in between your weeding breaks,  start with the list of some of our holdings, below.

K3488.R474 2016  Bowman, Michael, ed. Research handbook on biodiversity and law. 

KJE6254.5 G83 2018 Gualtieri, Donato. Environmental governance of invasive species : an EU perspective.

K3488.H37 2004 Harmful invasive species: legal responses.

KPA3129.P35 2004 Pang, Sang-wŏn. Saengtʻaegye wihae oeraejong ŭi tʻonghap kwalli pangan yŏnʼgu.

K3870 .R47 2017  Research handbook on climate change and agricultural law.

K3488.S548 2000 Shine, Clare. A guide to designing legal and institutional frameworks on alien invasive species.

KF5640.Z9 S64 2005 Species protection and the law : Endangered Species Act, biodiversity protection, and invasive species control : ALI-ABA course of study materials : April 6-8 2005, Washington, D.C. 

KF27.A33276 2002f United States. Congress. House. Committee on Agriculture. Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition, and Forestry. Invasive species : hearing before the Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition, and Forestry of the Committee on Agriculture, House of Representatives, One Hundred Seventh Congress, second session, October 2, 2002.

KF27.I5444 2014  United States. Congress. House. Committee on Natural Resources. Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation. H.R. 3994, “Federal Lands Invasive Species Control, Prevention, and Management Act”; and H.R. 4751, to make technical corrections to Public Law 110-229 to reflect the renaming of the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion memorial, and for other purposes : legislative hearing before the Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation of the Committee on Natural Resources, U.S. House of Representatives, One Hundred Thirteenth Congress, second session, Wednesday, July 9, 2014.


Comments (2)

  1. Bamboo isn’t necessarily an invasive species. Many varieties come from Asia and quickly spread and overrun a garden or natural space in this area, but there are a few native species that are commonly referred to as bamboo and look very similar to invasive varieties. The native bamboo varieties have a tendency to spread as well, but native animals feeding on it tends to prevent it being much of a problem.

  2. Very timely discussion on an ever-broadening national problem. All of these invasive species (and more)are threatening the native species that support critical native natural resources and wildlife. The federal government should do more to discourage the growth and spread of a particularly destructive invasive species: Ailanthus altissima, or Tree of Heaven (;; It can start by removing the tree growing on the northwest side of the U.S. Capitol grounds, next to the grotto.

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