Legislation from Sen. Daughtry to protect the use of native plants in landscaping becomes law

Posted: July 25, 2023 | Senator Daughtry

AUGUSTA — A bill from Sen. Mattie Daughtry, D-Brunswick, to promote native plants in landscaping, while supporting the rights of homeowners to choose how to landscape their properties, is now law. LD 649, “An Act to Promote Water Conservation and Water Quality and Create Habitat for Wildlife, Including Pollinator Species, by Protecting Low-impact Landscaping,” became law without the governor’s signature.

Sen. Mattie Daughtry

“Traditional grass turf lawns are rough on our environment, not only because they crowd out local plants, but also because of the toxic pesticides and the high amounts of water they require for maintenance. This bill helps protect Mainers who are planting yards and gardens that are better for our environment, public health and pollinators,” said Sen. Daughtry. “In a world of declining biodiversity and increasing species extinction, I firmly believe that passing this bill will make a difference.”

LD 649 will prohibit condominium associations and homeowner associations from restricting landscaping techniques that conserve water, lower maintenance costs, prevent pollution and create habitat for wildlife. This does not apply to a historic property that is listed in or determined by the Maine Historic Preservation Commission to be eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, before LD 649 passed, Maine was one of 19 states that didn’t have any laws addressing pollinator health. Nearly one-fourth of Maine’s population lives in HOA communities.

The pesticides typically used on turf lawns contaminate run-off and can lead to ecological hazards including algae blooms. Last year, Brunswick suffered a major clam die-off. One factor was the runoff of lawn fertilizers and pesticides, which contributed to the death of 4 acres of softshell clams in Maquoit Bay. Lawn fertilizers and pesticides that contain nitrogen and phosphorous contaminate the water and cause algae blooms. When the algae die and decompose, oxygen levels drop dramatically and choke out other marine life, including shellfish seedlings. Freeport and Harpswell experienced similar clam die-offs.

In December 2022, the New York Times published an article titled “They Fought the Lawn, and the Lawn Lost.” The article tells the story of a Maryland couple, Janet and Jeff Crouch, who replaced their grass turf lawn with native plant beds. After a decade of gradual replanting, the homeowner association ordered the Crouches to rip out the native plants and restore their grass turf lawn. The Crouches hired a lawyer and took the homeowner association to court. Shortly after, a Maryland state representative asked the Crouches if their case could form the basis of a new environmental law. The lawmaker drafted a bill that forbade homeowner associations from banning pollinator plants or rain gardens or from requiring property owners to plant turf grass. Maryland became the first state to protect homeowner control over eco-friendly yards.

LD 649 will go into effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns sine die.