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Kelly, Lamb among representatives pushing USDA to address spotted lanternfly spread

The spotted lanternfly, a brown-and-red-winged leaf-hopping insect, is an invasive species across much of the country. Julia Maruca/Butler Eagle

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U.S. Reps. Mike Kelly, R-16th, and Conor Lamb, D-17th were among signers of a letter urging the government to stop the spread of the invasive spotted lanternfly.

The bipartisan letter, sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Tuesday, was signed by 42 members of the House of Representatives across 13 states, including 14 representatives from Pennsylvania. It asked the USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Services to provide more support to combat the impact of the insect, known for causing damage to crops and plants and harming the livelihoods of farmers.

The spotted lanternfly — a brown-and-red-winged leaf-hopping insect — is an invasive species across much of the country. The bug has been present in Pennsylvania since 2014, and was first sighted on the eastern side of the state in Berks County, according to the state Department of Agriculture.

“We are grateful for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s efforts to address the spread of (the spotted lanternfly) in Pennsylvania,” the letter reads. “However, given the uncontrolled spread of the (spotted lanternfly) beyond southeast Pennsylvania and the surrounding regions, we believe a greater national effort is urgently needed to protect our nation’s agriculture.”

The letter urges the USDA to "take immediate steps” to send more funding and resources to national and state efforts to stop the spread of the insect.

“We recommend that the USDA increase outreach efforts to those states with confirmed infestations, as well as neighboring at-risk states, to ensure state and local governments have the support and information needed to track and mitigate the spread of the (spotted lanternfly),” the letter reads. “It is imperative that we address and contain this spread in order to protect the livelihoods of our nation’s farmers from undue harm. Please provide an update on your current planned federal efforts to contain the spread of the (spotted lanternfly), including your strategy to coordinate with state and local governments.”

In a statement, Kelly highlighted the potential danger that the spotted lanternfly might pose to agriculture in Pennsylvania.

“Agriculture plays a vital role in Pennsylvania’s economy, especially in my district which is home to many family farms and agricultural businesses,” Kelly said. “In Pennsylvania alone, the spotted lanternfly could cost hundreds of millions in economic damage and eliminate thousands of agricultural jobs. We must protect our farmers and harvesters from this invasive and dangerous threat.”

This is an adult spotted lanternfly. Agricuture officials are on the lookout for the lanternfly, which can cause heavy damage. Submitted photo
Impact of the insect

As the letter elaborates, the spotted lanternfly hurts agriculture and farming across the country, and is particularly “devastating” to the production of grapes, hops, apples and cucumbers.

“These large planthoppers are especially prone to feeding on grapevines, and as swarm feeders, the (spotted laternfly) can quickly overwhelm a grapevine resulting in weakened plants, reduced production, and even vine death,” the letter reads.

The letter also points out the impact of the spotted lanternfly’s “honeydew” excrement, which can stick to surrounding surfaces and cause the growth of disruptive sooty mold on plants and homes.

“We applaud previous efforts by the USDA and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to contain the spread of (the spotted lanternfly,)” the letter reads. “However, the rate at which the (spotted lanternfly) continues to spread across the country, the impact it has already had on the livelihood of so many American agricultural growers, and the potential devastation the (spotted lanternfly) could wreak on our nation’s farmers clearly show that much more needs to be done.”

An economic impact study cited in the letter estimates that without “targeted efforts,” the spotted lanternfly could cost Pennsylvania $324 million annually and more than 2,800 jobs.

This is the state spotted lanternfly quarantine map provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture in August. Quarantine strictly prohibits the movement of any spotted lanternfly living stage, including egg masses, nymphs, and adults, and regulates the movement of articles that may harbor the insect.
Current advice

A number of counties across Pennsylvania are included within a spotted lanternfly “quarantine zone,” in which state regulations require businesses to have a permit if they move regulated articles, such as landscaping waste, pallets or outdoor household items, in or out of the zone.

Butler County is not currently in a quarantine zone, though spotted lanternflies have been sighted within the county. The neighboring counties of Armstrong, Allegheny, Beaver, and Mercer are all included in the quarantine.

Spotted lanternflies can be killed, if spotted, by stepping on them. Their egg masses sighted on trees can be scraped off with a credit card or other similar object.

If you see a spotted lanternfly in Butler County, report the sighting to 1-888-422-3359, or use the online state reporting tool.