Senate enacts Sen. Daughtry bill to protect the use of native plants in landscaping

Posted: June 21, 2023 | Senator Daughtry

The use of native plants, rather than non-native turf lawns, supports pollinators and conserves local water supplies

AUGUSTA — On Tuesday, the Maine Senate voted to enact 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. LD 649, “An Act to Promote Water Conservation and Water Quality and Create Habitat for Wildlife, Including Pollinator Species, by Protecting Low-impact Landscaping,” received unanimous enactment votes in both the House and Senate.

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.”

As amended by committee, LD 649 would prohibit condominium associations and homeowner associations from restricting landscaping techniques that conserve water, lower maintenance costs, provide pollution prevention 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.

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 run-off into 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 limit homeowner control over eco-friendly yards.

“As our population grows, wild landscapes are increasingly replaced with suburban backyards and grass lawns punctuated with non-native perennials and shrubs that support very few species of wildlife. In fact, the United States has planted over 62,500 square miles — some 40 million acres — of lawns! That is almost twice the land area of Maine!” said Andrew Tufts on behalf of Maine Audubon during the public hearing for the bill. “Even a modest increase of native plant cover on suburban properties would greatly increase the diversity of insects, birds and other animals that use those landscapes and, in turn, strengthen Maine’s and the nation’s biodiversity.”

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Maine is one of the 19 states that do not have any laws addressing pollinator health. Nearly one-fourth of Maine’s population lives in HOA communities.

LD 649 now goes to the desk of Gov. Janet Mills, who has 10 days to either sign the bill, veto it, or allow it to become law without her signature.