According to Florida Statute 369.20 Florida Aquatic Weed Control Act, “No person or public agency shall control, eradicate, remove, or otherwise alter any aquatic weeds or plants in waters of the state unless a permit for such activity has been issued by the commission unless the activity or waters are expressly exempted by commission rule.”
Homeowners, private management companies, and public agencies alike must contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Invasive Plant Management Section before taking any control actions.
When considering permit applications, biologists check to be sure the applicant
- has a management plan
- can identify the plants needing control
- efforts will not adversely affect non-target areas, plants or wildlife
- understands the plant management options available
- knows the tools proposed – machines, herbicides, or biological controls – are the best suited for the job
- will only perform control efforts when weather and other environmental conditions are favorable.
Private landowners sometimes want to take invasive aquatic plant control matters into their own hands on waterways. Although their motivations are understandable, plant management is a complex science requiring experience, consultation and planning. Plant management activities in one privately-owned area may directly or indirectly affect nearby waters. In addition, aquatic vegetation targeted by a landowner or their contractor may not be invasive non-native vegetation, and may actually be native plants that play an essential ecological role such as controlling erosion, helping maintain water quality, and providing habitat and nursery areas for fish and wildlife. Therefore, it is essential that private landowners, plant management companies, and governmental stewardship agencies contact the FWC Invasive Plant Management Section and, where necessary, obtain the appropriate state permits prior to employing plant control methods.
In Florida, regional biologists associated with one of eight FWC/IPMS field offices or can provide plant management consultation and guidance to private and public landowners and managers. They can conduct a site inspection to assess the invasive plant population and make appropriate plant management recommendations. They also can determine whether a permit is required and assist with the process. These services are free of charge.
Permit Rules are codified in Rule Chapter 68F-20 Aquatic Plant Control Permits, and are also shown at FWC’s Licenses & Permits: Aquatic Plants site. The rule includes Definitions, Permits-Applications, Waters Exempt from Permitting, Criteria for Issuing, Modifying or Denying Permit Applications, Management Method Criteria and Standards, Operations and Reporting Requirements, and Penalties.
Under certain circumstances, permitting exemptions apply (68F-20.0035). Plant management on certain water bodies does not require a state permit if the waterbody:
- is owned by one person
- is not connected to another waterbody of special concern
- was constructed and is used exclusively for agricultural purposes
- is associated with an electrical power plant and is not connected to or associated with waterbodies designated as manatee aggregation sites
- is ten surface acres or less and is not associated with waters of special concern.
Permits also are not required for owners seeking to remove non-woody vegetation and shrubs from fresh waterbodies by mechanical means along 50 feet or 50% of the shoreline (whichever is less) in order to allow access to a boat or for swimmers. This exemption does not apply to waterbodies classified as aquatic preserves or Outstanding Florida Waters by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
Permits for Herbicide Use
Regardless of exemptions, plant control that employs herbicides may require a permit, and the FWC must be contacted prior to treatment. Factors determining the need for a permit include
- Type of waterbody
- Ownership of waterbody
- Aquatic species in the waterbody
- Proximity and hydrologic connection to other waterbodies
- Amount of herbicide to be used.