Well folks, here is the official declaration from the USDA on this issue. Its a bit long, but I hope all get something out of this (at least from an awareness stance).
7CFR319.37 is the authority for restricting plant imports into the USA.
The laws were originally written to protect agriculture. In the late
1800 the interest of growing plants was for food and fiber. Sorry but
the interests of plant hobbyists was not on the horizon when the laws
were written. Up until the late 1950s a majority of the plant imports
were conducted b Agricultural Research Service-ARS, again interest in
Horticulture and hobbies were not on the radar screen. I guess most
folks were focused on the cold war and having vast expanses of monolawn.
In the late 70's imports began to change, the percentage of individuals
who were plant collectors jumped to the point that by the 80's and 90's
a vast amount of new plant material was introduced into the USA. the
regulation 7 CFR319.37 was last updated in 1979 at the beginning of the
wave of new imports.
About this time the inexpensive and ability of individuals to get on a
plane from one exotic location and be in the USA the next was
unimaginable in prior world history. The consequences was a mass influx
of plant material in the USA from the late 80s to present.
The regulations are a balance between allowing anything into the USA and
protecting the interests of those that are affected. Yes sometimes it
seems political but we try to keep things on a scientific basis overall.
I don't think we have an agenda and the conspiracy theory is probably
left to the area of the X-files.
Aquatic plants. Overall this has been left to the States to lay a claim
on the regulations. Federal laws come into effect when the plant becomes
adapted to more that one state and has the potential to cause
environmental or commercial impact.
Yes, some plants have been introduced that now are causing more harm
than intended. We can probably blame those that thought it was a good
idea, but I can assure you that all of the introductions were based on
what -at the time they thought was a good idea. Overall, we do not know
what will cause a problem until after the problem exists. We still lack
the ability to predict the future and nature is a force that no one has
managed to control yet.
We do try to balance the interests of the individual, commercial and
naturalist. All three groups have vested interest and we try to be
flexible in the rulemaking process the best we can.
As far as your questions:
Is this still regulated by the intent of the Plant Protection Act?
Yes, The PPA has a fairly broad regulatory authority. As it states the
import and prodigy, so generations after the initial import can be
regulated if the Secretary of Agriculture deems it so. It is really a
great piece of legislature to help protect USA from alien invasive
How does the sale or trade of these species, within the context of the hobby, reside?
The actual import is regulated to exclude FNWs from entering the USA,
but this does not prevent individuals who believe they know better or
are exempt from regulations from smuggling or obfuscating the identity
with the intent to by pass the FNW law. The reason that the plants are
prohibited is the ability of the plants to establish in the natural
ecosystem successfully and cause significant problems where the
taxpayers pay for the cleanup. Granted in a contained environment like
an aquarium it's not a problem, but just like people who choose to
smuggle because they can or want to, there are people that distribute
the plants out of ignorance or spite which cause ecological problems.
There are plants which are "grandfather'd" into the country because they
may have been here prior to the FNW laws of 2002. The problem is moving
the FNWs across State lines. At least 5 aquatic plants were commonly
found in trade USDA tried to have a liberal approach to the regulations,
leaving the requirements to the individual states to decide. There have
been problems and currently lacking a permit to move interstate, If
caught, then this can become a legal issue. There are fines and having
to deal with the legal issues for an individual to hire a lawyer and all
of those complications can make the regulation process messy for
We do have officers who are agricultural antismuggling official - they
visit aquarium stores and look at the chat rooms and focus on FNW
distribution across state lines. But in all honesty we do not conduct
individual raids on home hobbyists to inspect aquariums looking for
The next major issue would be, if someone does have one of these listed
species, what is the proper course of action?
The reason why FNWs are a problem is the ability of the plant to grow
well and multiply quickly, if a home hobbyist has a FNW in a collection,
be conscious about destruction of unwanted plant material. Make sure
it's rendered incapable of propagation before it leaves your home.
Hobbyist who enjoy ecosystems should be aware of natural systems and the problems of introduction of an alien species that can out compete and
create domination issues in a balanced system.
Can they continue to hold these species?
The problem is when the plant material is no longer wanted. Again we are
not conducting home raids, but selling, transferring even giving away
FNWs is breaking the law and not being a good steward of the natural
system that we live in. One person's cool aquarium plant can be a
boater's nightmare, native fish habitat conflict, waste water management
issue, environmental impact disaster. I think people need to take more
responsibility for the areas the live in.
I have a small pond on my property in Maryland and I'd like to put in it
local fish, but the laws don't allow it because they are protected-
endangered. I can get western fish at the aquarium store but if they
escape they then add to the demise of local fish, this is a quandary. If
individuals realize that some of their "kept" pet plants were to get
established in the local waterways there could be impact. Do we, as
stewards of out own backyards want to be responsible for problems in the
environment that our neighbors will need to clean up?
I am not sure what you can gleam from all this but hopefully it's
There are ways for individuals to obtain foreign material legally,
anyone can apply for an import permit. Anyone can collect from the wild
as long as the host country does not mind or has authorized it. Everyone
must have a phytosanitary certificate from the exporting to import plant
material into the USA. Lots of 13 or more require that the material be
cleared through a USDA Plant Inspection Station. We are concerned about
the "Stuff" that may hitch hike with the plants. Eggs of large macro
pests. Snails. Spores of diseases this type of non desired plant
Links for information:
William D. Aley
Senior Import Specialist,
Plants for Planting
APHIS, PPQ, PRIM-CIAO
Office (301) 734-8758,
Fax: (301) 734-3225