Delaware moves to protect native species

Native plants sit on Delaware Gov. John Carney's desk as he signed legislation creating a commission to protect native species. (Dan Rosenthal/WHYY)

Native plants sit on Delaware Gov. John Carney's desk as he signed legislation creating a commission to protect native species. (Dan Rosenthal/WHYY)

Gov. John Carney signed legislation Thursday creating the Delaware Native Species Commission, which will work for the next decade to preserve and propagate plants and animal species that are native to Delaware.

Alarming numbers on the loss of native species in a recent University of Delaware study sparked the effort to create a commission to protect those plants and animals that call Delaware home. That study showed 40 percent of all native plant species are threatened or exterminated, and 41 percent of bird species that rely on forests are rare or absent.

State Sen. Stephanie Hansen, who championed the idea, says the commission will add to the work that several groups in the state are already doing.

“We have so many agencies right now that are really stepping out to take part in this,” Hansen said. “We are right on the cutting edge of this public policy shift, and I’m so excited that the commission will be put in place in order to steer that.”

The main mission of the commission is to reverse the trend of decline and extinction of local plant and animal native species. The group will report back to the General Assembly every year on its findings and possibly recommend legislation or policy changes to help native species.

Hansen said the group will also help Delaware schools incorporate protecting native plants into lesson plans.

“I can’t tell you how many teachers have already reached out to me and say, ‘Can you help us put together something in the schools? We want to push this forward with our students,’” she said.

One way native species can be preserved is by preventing non-native species from invading. So the state Department of Transportation is taking steps to change the way it landscapes grassy areas along Delaware’s roads.

“We already have DelDOT, which is taking the lead in implementing some of the recommendations,” Hansen said. “We have private businesses and companies that want to do the right thing, that have been doing the right thing to the best of their ability, but they’re saying ‘We need your help with this.’ ”

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