Spotted lanternfly

This graphic from Penn State University shows the lifecycle of the invasive spotted laternfly.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — As 14 counties in eastern Pennsylvania are under quarantine for the invasive spotted lanternfly, New York state is doing what it can to spot potentially contaminated shipments from the Keystone State.

Permits must be obtained by businesses that move products or vehicles in and out of the Pennsylvania counties where lanternfly infestations have been confirmed. The invasive pest native to parts of Asia was first discovered in Berks County in 2014.

But evidence of the laternfly is making its way into New York, which has been enforcing an external quarantine on goods coming from infested areas since October 2018, and started tracking Pennsylvania company’s compliance several months earlier. Over that time, the state sent dozens of noncompliance notices to businesses.

Trucks carrying everything from living plants to stone have been cited for violations, according to documents obtained through a public records request to the state of New York.

From Nov. 28, 2018, to Nov 7, 2019, New York state found 55 businesses noncompliant with the quarantine at checkpoints along the road. Another 68 businesses were found noncompliant by horticultural inspectors, who inspect goods once they reach their destination. New York hasn’t issued any fines.

According to those records, some lanternflies were found. Twenty-four dead lanternflies were found among cut Christmas trees from Geissler Tree Farm in Leesport that were being sold in Rochester, N.Y. A live lanternfly was found in a shipment of pet food from Easton.

Ethan Angell, a horticultural inspector for the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, remembers one shipment on Long Island where inspectors found an egg mass among nursery stock.

But mostly, Pennsylvania businesses lacked the required paperwork to prove their compliance with the quarantine.

In February 2018, New York state officials started to discuss their concerns about the lanternfly spreading. They started to implement spotted lanternfly checkpoints — especially on Interstates 81 and 84 — to inspect traffic coming out of Pennsylvania, Angell said.

He said they found a high rate of noncompliance, with only three of 28 inspected vehicles passing.

“That was very alarming to us,” he said.

New York officials decided to enforce the quarantines at weigh stations and truck stops to protect their own agriculture industry, as well as in places where goods from the area are sold, such as supermarkets and nurseries that might sell plants from Pennsylvania.

He said they try to educate drivers when they inspect trucks carrying shipments from the quarantine area.

Angell said there’s been a dramatic increase in compliance since New York started tracking permits. The state forwards the results of its inspections to the state the goods are coming from so they can follow up.

“We are seeing an increase in compliance, that indicates to us it’s working,” he said. “We are seeing an increase in the knowledge not only just on the commercial establishments we regulate but also the general public.”

“Word is getting out, and it’s huge.”

Dan Schantz Farm Greenhouse was one offender New York inspectors found, citing the company for 30 shipments that had no certificate for inspection. The Zionsville company does have a compliance agreement from Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

John Carl, an account manager for Schantz, said the business is now in compliance and has dedicated resources to checking for spotted lanternflies.

They ship to supermarkets and other companies throughout New York, he said. Schantz has worked closely with Penn State Extension and the Department of Agriculture to comply with the quarantine and keep the spotted lanternfly from spreading. The state inspects Schantz’s products, and internal inspectors check products coming in, pallets and individual crops. Each shipment has documentation saying it was inspected ? the one item Schantz had been missing, he said.

“You can imagine having to go through each vehicle, each shipment and having to make sure that it’s clean, as well as continually monitoring the crops,” he said. “It’s a considerable expense to us. It has to get done, of course.”

State officials and growers in the agricultural industry are worried about the threat posed by the spotted lanternfly. Unlike some pests, which decimate individual populations of trees, lanternflies are not picky eaters. They prefer the invasive tree of heaven, but have been known to feed on grapes, orchard fruit, hops, hardwoods and other agricultural products. State officials have long feared they pose a threat to a multibillion dollar agricultural industry in the state.

And now state officials near and far share that fear, with officials as far as Michigan bracing for the lanternfly, according to the Lansing State Journal.

Penn State, Pennsylvania and the federal government are working on a three-pronged effort to fight the pest. Penn State is focused on education, the state is fighting the pest in the quarantine area, and the federal government battles along the edges of the quarantine area.

Delaware put a quarantine in place in February, Virginia in June, Maryland in October. New Jersey put a quarantine into effect last year.

A map compiled by the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program shows the infestation in Pennsylvania has spread to counties in those states. Lanternflies have also been found in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts but full infestations haven’t been recorded there.

Emelie Swackhamer, an extension educator for Penn State Extension, said the quarantine is helping prevent the pest from spreading. She said that contrasts to their spread in South Korea, where they were invasive and took over very quickly.

She said there’s a lot of lanternfly awareness in infested areas, and people generally try not to spread the bug.

“Although it has spread over a wider area, we believe it would be worse if people weren’t trying to hard not to spread it. It’s still critically important that people continue to do this,” Swackhamer said. “We don’t want it to get to the grape-growing areas in Northwestern Pennsylvania, or into the Midwest or Central Valley of California. There’s some big economic commodities at risk.”

She said the lanternflies can be difficult to control because the nymphs hop and adults fly and can catch wind patterns. They’re also hitchhikers, and their eggs especially can easily be transported by humans.

Swackhamer said people were initially worried that the lanternfly would be carried long distances by people, but so far there’s one known case: in northern Virginia.

Spotted lanternflies feed on the phloem in plants. They can wound a plant by physically feeding from it, and by excreting a sticky sweet substance called honeydew that leads to mold. Leaves and branches in heavily infested areas will turn slick and black.

Jim Eckstrom is executive editor of the Olean Times Herald and Bradford Publishing Co. His email is jeckstrom@oleantimesherald.com.)

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