Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Pennsylvania lawmakers want to ban invasive plant species from state highways

Cars drive on a highway.
Chris Knight
LNP | LancasterOnline
Route 222 Southbound at the Route 30 and 222 interchange in Manheim Twp. on Friday, March 22, 2024.

A bill sponsored by a Lancaster County legislator will literally change the landscape of Pennsylvania’s highways.

The state Legislature passed a bill late last month banning PennDOT from planting along state highways any species designated as invasive by the National Invasive Species Information Center. The federal agency warns on its website that invasive species can lead to the “extinction of native plants and animals, destroy biodiversity, and permanently alter habitats.”

According to the bill’s sponsor, East Hempfield Township state Rep. Brett Miller, those concerns and the danger invasive species pose to Pennsylvania’s agriculture industry and the state’s economy stress the need for state lawmakers to ban them.

The Invasive Species Center says those dangers include harm to property values, farming productivity and public utility operations.

WESA Inbox Edition Newsletter

Start your morning with today's news on Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania.

“Madam Speaker, this is a small but mighty bill,” Miller said, addressing House Speaker Joanna McClinton. “Since PennDOT does repair work all throughout the commonwealth, this bill will reach to every corner of Pennsylvania.”

Miller, a five-term Republican, did not respond to a request for an interview.

His bill also requires PennDOT to plant species native to Pennsylvania along state highways for future jobs. Non-native species could be used only where it is “not feasible” to use indigenous plants.

The legislation, passed by the Senate in a 45-2 vote, now heads to Gov. Josh Shapiro’s desk to be signed into law. Last Wednesday, Shapiro’s spokesman said the governor will sign it but did not specify when.

Gregg Robertson, legislative advocate for the Pennsylvania Landscape & Nursery Association, said PennDOT had commonly used crown vetch, a “tenacious and invasive” plant with small pink flowers, to stabilize new construction job sites quickly. Recently the agency has used warm-season grasses and native shrubs.

Robertson said Miller’s bill simply codifies PennDOT’s shift away from using non-native or invasive species in recent years. “It is more of a policy statement than anything.”

Zachary Appleby, a PennDOT spokesman, confirmed the agency already has been working to reduce the planting of non-native species.

“In 2023, we updated our seed mixes and construction standards to remove non-native species from projects around the state,” he said.

Pennsylvania has approximately 2,100 native plants — including ferns, sedges, rushes, wildflowers and vines — according to the state’s Department of Conservation & Natural Resources. The agency lists certain native plants with photos on online brochures promoting their use in home gardens.

Fritz Schroeder, chief executive of the Lancaster Conservancy, said his group fully supports the bill. “Native plants are better adapted to handle our local climate while supporting a complex web of insects and wildlife.”

Read more from our partners, LancasterOnline.