A Threat to Pennsylvania’s Economy
For many Pennsylvanians, dedicating $2.5 million to the battle against an insect that significantly affects only 20% of our counties is a questionable investment. One reason might be their not being familiar with the spotted lanternfly, which so far has either failed to or just not gotten around to crossing the Susquehanna River in large numbers. To date, 14 counties have been placed under quarantine due to the insect’s presence reaching the level of infestation. The list of counties stretches from Monroe in the north to Dauphin and Lancaster here in the south. A relative handful of spotted lanternflies have been seen in York County. How long will it remain that way?

The spotted lanternfly is indigenous to India and southeast Asia. It was first discovered in the United States five years ago in Berks County. Sightings have also taken place in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New York and Virginia; however, Pennsylvania can easily be considered the insect’s “haven.”

While the spotted lanternfly has had minimal impact on Pennsylvania geographically, the concern is its potential economic impact. The insect is a threat to vineyards and fruit orchards. While the national wine industry might be at the tail end of a tremendous growth period, nearly $5 billion goes into Pennsylvania’s economy as the result of the production, distribution, sales and consumption of wine. More than 27,000 people are employed in Pennsylvania’s wine industry.

You can bet our apple and stone fruit growers are wary of a spotted lanternfly infestation. We have too many orchard stores in our area to name just one, but each of them has to be concerned. The Fruit Belt in Adams County contributes approximately $580 million annually to the county’s economy and supports more than 9,000 jobs. While the Plum Pox Virus of the 1990s reduced the number of peach trees in our area, Pennsylvania still produces nearly 40 million pounds of peaches with an annual value of approximately $20 million.

What is being done to stave off the spotted lanternfly’s advances? In addition to first-time state funding in the current budget, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has allocated $17.5 million in emergency funds to stop the insect’s spread. Gov. Tom Wolf is proposing $3 million for the spotted lanternfly. Some of the money will be used for research, as the USDA, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and Penn State University are teaming up to put 150 researchers and experts on the case.

From a legislative perspective, House Bill 404, authored by Rep. John Lawrence from Chester County, would add the Tree of Heaven to the list of noxious weeds in Pennsylvania. Spotted lanternflies consider this plant a food source and making this bill law would allow our Department of Agriculture to take drastic steps in controlling an invasive plant species. The bill is up for consideration in the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee.

As citizens, we can also play a role in dealing with this insect. If you don’t know what one looks like, please refer to the photo with this column. If you see a spotted lanternfly, please call the York County Penn State Extension (PSE) at 717-840-7408. All reports will be taken seriously and investigated. PSE will also tell you how to preserve the insect until it can be examined. You can also find information on their website, www.extension.psu.edu, about tree traps.

The spotted lanternfly feeds on a variety of trees including, but not limited to, walnut, pine, maple, cherry and apple trees. Damaging hardwood trees also invites other insects and subsequently further damage. In addition to impacting the wine industry, the spotted lanternfly loves hops, which is not good news for Pennsylvania’s burgeoning craft beer industry.

I applaud our budgetary effort to address this invasive creature and hope the governor’s proposal is part of the spending plan for the next fiscal year. If not, our economy could be significantly impacted, in terms of what we produce and who is responsible for producing it.

Representative Keith Gillespie
47th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: Scott Little