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Support grows for bills to whack bamboo

By Dai Norman, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Bamboo is known as a symbol of good luck, but many Virginia residents aren’t feeling so lucky about its showing up in their yards.

Golden bamboo, scientifically known as Phyllostachys aurea, is a weed and a force to be reckoned with, especially when it has invaded state parks and other public land as well as private property.

The state Senate and House of Delegates have taken note and are taking a whack at the plant.

The House Counties, Cities and Towns Committee voted 20-0 Friday to approve a bill declaring golden bamboo a noxious weed and authorizing localities to control it. HB 2154 now goes to the full House for consideration.

The Senate already has passed a similar measure, SB 964, by Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta County.

Bamboo is infamous for wrapping itself around native plants’ roots. Then the rapidly spreading weed quickly dominates the invaded environment, sometimes taking over acres of land.

The vigorous plant is tolerant to drought, and exterminating it is a laborious process. According to experts, to get rid of golden bamboo, you must apply herbicide and dig up the roots, which can extend a foot underground. You can try to mow the plant to death, but it may take a couple of years before it is fully gone.

SB 964 would authorize “any locality to adopt ordinances requiring proper upkeep of running bamboo and prohibiting the spread of running bamboo from a landowner’s property, with violations punishable by a civil penalty of $50.” Property owners who ignore the violations could be fined as much as $3,000 over the course of a year.

The bill includes running bamboo in the category of “other foreign growth” that existing law allows localities to regulate and in some cases to cut.

HB 2154, introduced by Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, also targets bamboo. It “designates golden bamboo as a noxious weed and authorizes any locality to adopt an ordinance to prevent, control, and abate the growth, importation, or spread of golden bamboo.”

Rasoul said his constituents have expressed a lot of concern about the weed.

“All of the cases we heard are all across western Virginia,” Rasoul said. “But then there was somebody in the committee that talked about something in Fairfax.”

Invasive species are a major concern in Virginia. The Senate also has passed a bill targeting the snakehead fish and zebra mussels.

SB 906, introduced by Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, would prohibit people from introducing those animals into state waters. Violators would be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine.

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has been sounding the alarm about the snakehead fish since it was discovered in the state in 2004. The fish, which resembles a snake and is native to parts of Asia and Africa, is “very abundant in all of Virginia’s tidal tributaries to the Potomac River,” the DGIF says. Snakeheads also have colonized several creeks in the Rappahannock River system.

The snakehead is a predator that eats other fish, crustaceans, frogs, insects, small reptiles, birds and mammals and can take over a body of water, according to a DGIF factsheet. Since 2002, it has been illegal to own a snakehead fish without a permit from the state agency.

The zebra mussel, named for its striped shell, isan invasive species that clogs up water pipes and harms municipal water treatment systems.

According to the DGIF, zebra mussels, which are native to Eastern Europe, were first found in Virginia in 2002 in an abandoned quarry in Prince William County that was used for scuba diving. State officials fear that the mussels could get into nearby Lake Manassas and the Occoquan Reservoir, the primary water supply for more than 1 million people in Northern Virginia. That could increase the cost of treating the water by as much as $850,000 a year.

“Zebra mussels also represent a significant threat to the Commonwealth’s native ecology and wildlife communities,” the DGIF says. The invaders can kill “many bottom-dwelling species, including our rare and endangered freshwater mussel populations,” and they can damage boat hulls and engines.

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