County officials this week took another step toward protecting Indiana's native species.
Thanks to assistance from the Knox County Soil and Water Conservation District as well as natural resource specialist Will Drews, county attorney Yvette Kirchoff presented to the commissioners on Tuesday their first look at an invasive species ordinance that seeks to halt the spread of invasive plants that threaten the area's natural flora.
After weeks of research, discussion and plenty of input from Drews, the ordinance was approved on first reading. It prohibits the sale, trade or import of certain invasive plant species into Knox County that are rated medium or higher on the Indiana invasive species list, Kirchoff explained.
Those ratings are determined by Purdue University's Invasive Plant Advisory Committee.
The ordinance also includes a list of plants, as amended by the state or the hearing authority outlined in the ordinance, that should not be sold in Knox County by nurseries, groceries or any other vendors beginning Jan. 1, 2020.
“The reason we went with that (date) is we understand there are contracts out there where people have contracted for the next few seasons to sell certain plants that might be on this list,” Kirchoff said. “We don't want to impact the economic health of the small businesses in the county. However, we know that these plants are hurting some of the native plants.
“So we're urging the vendors to come into compliance with this law that's not going into effect until 2020.”
The ordinance, she added, is not retroactively applied to anyone who might already have something that's on the list growing on their properties.
“There's been a lot of speculation that someone is going to be asked to cut down their tree that's been in their yard for 20 years,” Kirchoff said. “But that's not it. This is forward-looking sales into Knox County.”
The enforcing authority, as stated in the ordinance, will be the county's natural resource specialist, a role that Drews currently fills. The enforcing authority will work on contacting all the vendors and discuss with them what's not in compliance with the ordinance.
The hearing authority would be a three-member board appointed by the commissioners that's structured similarly to the Knox County Unsafe Building Board. The Knox County Invasive Species Board would have staggered terms, with the first member serving one year, the second member serving two, and the third member serving three years.
Orders would be able to be issued through the ordinance if someone is not in compliance, and hearings could take place with the possibility of penalties.
If someone feels they're being treated unfairly, Kirchoff said, they can go to Superior Court 2 for a judicial review.
“And the enforcing authority does have the authority to take emergency action if deemed appropriate,” Kirchoff said.
The ordinance might also lead to some inter-local agreements with Bicknell and Vincennes to possibly allow the enforcement of the ordinance in their jurisdictions, too, in exchange for the use of their composting piles.
If that ends up working out, the ordinance might also be able to be enforced in the county's incorporated areas as well.
But for now, the ordinance is focused on all the unincorporated areas of the county.
And since the ordinance utilizes the natural resource specialist, who is employed by the Soil and Water Conservation District, Kirchoff noted, it will also require an agreement between the commissioners and the district.
Once the ordinance is on the books, it means that Drews will make the rounds to all the affected vendors and remind them of the policy. He'll make several visits close to the point of the enforcement date and after that, he'll make periodic checks to make sure vendors don't have any of the invasives in stock.
This document is so important, Drews has said, because invasive species are severely threatening Knox County's native plants and trees.
The problem is that invasives don't have any natural predators, so they get completely out of control and alter the environment by taking over forests, disrupting pasture lands and even disrupting agriculture.
The ordinance and all its specifics will be published after its second and third reading, which will likely take place at the July 17 commissioners' meeting.