Bamboo ban gets a thumbs down locally, but state trumps the issue

Despite the opinion of Conservation Advisory Council Chairman Ed Bausman that education, not a new law, is the best way to control invasive bamboo, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation last week that, as of January 2013, will prohibit the sale, possession  or transportation of the plants within New York State.

Prior to the state action, Mr. Bausman had said in an interview he didn’t favor action by the Shelter Island Town Board to ban the plant as several other Long Island communities have done.

“I don’t think we need to ban it but people have to be alerted to problems,” Mr. Bausman said.

The town’s Green Options Committee briefly considered the idea of proposing a town ban on bamboo but members felt the topic was more appropriate for Mr. Bausman’s Conservation Advisory Council to consider, according to Green Options member Herb Stelljes.

“We don’t need more code,” Mr. Bausman said about the idea of a ban, which is being considered by nearby Greenport and Southold Town. About eight Long Island municipalities  — including Brookhaven, Hempstead and Long Beach — have enacted bans on bamboo, although not all have taken effect yet.

People considering using bamboo for privacy on their land need to know how to contain it, Mr. Bausman said — although it now appears that beginning next year it would be illegal to plant any new bamboo here under state law.

Dan Fokine, one of about a dozen people who have formed the Shelter Island Vine Busters Committee, said he expects the new state law won’t require removal of existing bamboo. But if the town does decide to require that, it has to have a strong maintenance effort in place because the plants often grow back rapidly.

The committee, which he calls a “civilian strong-arm” group, was formed last year to address the problem of invasive species on the Island and hasn’t specifically turned its attention to bamboo yet. But he expects it will do so eventually.

There are several areas on the Island where bamboo is prevalent, including a small pond in Mashomack Preserve that Mr. Fokine described as “surrounded” by bamboo.

Bamboo is already encroaching on rights of way on some Island roadways, according to Highway Department Superintendent Jay Card Jr. Workers have removed shoots along South Ferry Road only to have them sprout again rapidly. There’s also a heavy growth of bamboo in Shorewood at the intersection of Osprey and Pheasant lanes, where the shoots compete with evergreen trees, and on the Nursery Woodland Annex property owned jointly by the town and Suffolk  County.

The town has developed a maintenance program for that property but Mr. Fokine said the founders of the Vine Busters Committee organized because there hasn’t been much money budgeted for taking care of properties purchased with the 2-percent-tax open space funds.


According to Mr. Bausman, to control existing bamboo, people need to insert thick metal plates at least three feet deep into the ground to keep bamboo roots from spreading onto neighboring property. Cement generally won’t contain the roots, Mr. Bausman said. It has to be thick metal or the bamboo will spread. The problem from the root spread, he said, is not just that the plant might spring up where it’s not wanted, but also the danger posed by roots that can infiltrate propane lines and cause fires, he said.

“What happens if it penetrates a line of someone’s propane tank?” Mr. Bausman asked. There’s liability there and inevitably, neighbors end up asking town officials for help, Mr. Bausman said. “Don’t make your problem our problem,” he said.

He witnessed the rapid growth of bamboo in Asia when he was on a trip there. He said it grew as much as three feet a day.“People should be made aware of the downsides” of planting bamboo, he cautioned.

Patches of bamboo can be killed by cutting the shoot six inches from the ground and immediately painting the remaining shoot with a herbicide, Mr. Bausman said. The herbicide must be applied within 15 seconds of the cut or the sap will retreat back into the rhizome and live to bloom again, he maintained. He discounted the theory that vinegar would work to kill the shoot.

To kill large groves of bamboo, a backhoe must be used to dig out the plant, Mr. Bausman said. Digging must go down about 16 inches and then a trench as wide as a bucket and at least 30 inches deep needs to be created around the site. The trench must then be filled with concrete or gravel to help contain the rhizomes so they can’t reach sunlight. Without sunlight, the rhizomes will eventually die. Once the bamboo is gone, the trench needs to be filled with soil to ground level and grass planted to cover the area.

In a letter to the Reporter and Town Board, someone anonymously wrote that if town officials don’t want to prohibit the use of bamboo, they should require those planting it to contain it properly.

“It definitely should not be planted within 20 feet of an environmentally sensitive area, especially wetlands and the buffer area,” the letter writer said.

Referring to the letter, Town Board member Peter Reich made a point of warning the public at the July 31 Town Board work session that anonymous letters will not be given formal attention by the board. Letter writers must include their names, he said.

But just as there are warnings about the dangers of bamboo, there are those who point out that not all bamboo plants are problematic.

The American Bamboo Society maintains that there’s a lot of “misinformation regarding the potential invasiveness of bamboo” and that, if it’s properly planted and maintained, it’s “not invasive.” The organization differentiates between clumping and running bamboo, explaining that the roots of clumping bamboos generally spread a few inches to a foot or more. Running bamboo plants have roots that extend many feet.

Only if a plant is displacing native species or changing the structure of ecological communities and endangering native species is it truly invasive, according to the American Bamboo Society website.

“Man-made barriers assist in keeping the bamboo where you want it,” the society says, but annual maintenance is necessary to cut off rhizomes when they sprout.