We write in reply to a letter in the Aug. 24 issue of Lancaster Farming from Travis Martin, who asked about our collaborative efforts to contain and manage spotted lanternfly infestations.
We first thank Mr. Martin for his efforts to manage the spotted lanternfly at his place of work within the quarantine zone and to stay informed on this threat to the environment, commerce and quality of life in Pennsylvania. It is just this kind of response from the people of Pennsylvania that will make the difference in controlling the pest.
The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, in coordination with the USDA, have developed a strategy and are continually working to fight this invasive insect to suppress the population and prevent further spread. Our partnership encompasses outreach, research, statewide survey/response, quarantine zone management, regulatory compliance, treatment and control.
Within the quarantine zone, treatment efforts by PDA are concentrated on high risk areas, such as major transit or heavy tourist traffic areas. In these areas, treatment is focused on removal of 80-90% of Ailanthus altissima (Tree of Heaven) — a preferred host plant for spotted lanternfly — and leaving the remaining Ailanthus trees as insecticide-treated trap trees where spotted lanternflies can feed and die.
In addition to these treatment efforts inside the quarantine zone, PDA has teams proactively surveying the entire state of Pennsylvania in high risk areas and responding to public sightings of spotted lanternfly. We don’t want to solely rely on the public reports, because early detection is key to getting ahead of this pest and ensuring new populations do not establish outside of the current 14-county quarantine zone.
It may seem that the easy answer to our spotted lanternfly problem is removal of Ailanthus statewide. However, it’s a huge task and there is still uncertainty as to how much spotted lanternflies depend on it. If we remove all Ailanthus before we have research confirming their dependency, we risk forcing the spotted lanternfly to feed on other native trees and further threatening Pennsylvania’s leading hardwoods industry.
Penn State, USDA and other scientists are looking at the pest’s feeding, mating and dispersal behavior, in hopes of developing new control methods. For example, researchers are evaluating a range of insecticides tailored to differing circumstances, including against egg masses, which seem especially vulnerable. One promising line of research is exploring the use of a naturally occurring fungus, which attacks only insects, as a biocontrol agent.
Until this research bears more fruit, we rely on every Pennsylvanian, inside and outside the quarantine zone, to help battle this bug. We ask residents to sticky-band and treat trees with insecticides, and always to look before they leave to ensure the spotted lanternfly isn’t transported to new areas of the state or our neighbors. And those who have never seen one can learn what to look for and report any sightings by visiting the Penn State Extension website at extension.psu.edu/spottedlanternfly.
Mr. Martin’s observation that this will take hard work and a resolute community to win this war is spot on. We need all Pennsylvanians on deck, fighting alongside PDA, Penn State and USDA, against this invasive pest. We understand that this is personal and emotional for so many in the quarantine zone; the spotted lanternfly has invaded our personal space, businesses, and places of peace. But it is for these reasons that we hope you and your fellow citizens will stay in this fight with us. We need everyone doing their part.
— Russell C. Redding
Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture
— Dennis D. Calvin
Associate Dean and Director of Special Programs, Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences