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Environment & Energy

Agriculture Officials Trying To Wipe Out Invasive Insect Before It Spreads

Pennsyvlania Department of Agriculture

Invasive insects can have devastating impacts on native plants and trees, as evidenced by the Emerald Ash Borer’s effect on the state’s ash trees.

That insect was first found in Michigan in 2002; it continued to spread and has wiped out tens of millions of ash trees nationwide, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Now there’s another bug to worry about – the Spotted Lanterfly. The pest was first spotted last fall in Berks County.

“We believe it’s been here a season or two, so it can live here, it can survive here, it’s been tested,” said Russell Redding, Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary. “What we want to do is send it packing.”

Pennsylvania received $2.8 million through the 2014 Farm Bill to protect the state’s agriculture industry from pests and disease. About $1.5 million of that will go toward efforts to eradicate the Spotted Lanternfly, which Russell said poses a threat to landowners, homeowners and the agriculture community.

“As we know from a little of the history of this pest, it is very adaptable," he said. "There are 65 different hosts, 25 that are actually grown or can grow in Pennsylvania. So we have a lot to deal with here.”

In particular, officials are concerned with the insect’s impact on the state’s grape, apple and stone fruit industries. Combined, they have an economic impact of more than $178 million. Pine and Hardwood trees could also be affected, logging of those in the state accounts for $12 billion in sales.

So far, nearly 20,000 Spotted Lanternflies have been terminated; crews spent the fall, winter and early spring on egg mass scraping. But, that alone won’t get rid of the bugs – so bands are being installed at the bottom of some trees

“We now enter this new phase as the egg masses hatch,” said Russell, “and that’s where the sticky tape banding is going to occur.

In addition, education efforts are underway in six Berks County townships infested with the insect, plus quarantine is in place around several boroughs and may be expanded if the Spotted Lanterfly spreads. The Department of Agriculture is working with Kutztown University and Penn State University on research and control of the pest – all have support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“We want to make this known as the place where Spotted Lanternfly died,” said Kevin Shea with the U.S.D.A. “Arrived and then died and didn’t go anywhere else.”

So far the insect has not been spotted anywhere else in the U.S.