Area business and property owners are being encouraged to help stop the spread of the spotted lanternfly, an invasive species that can damage hardwood and fruit trees.
But given the potential economic damage – about $18 billion by one estimate –the state is relying on more than just encouragement, especially for businesses that move goods in and out of areas where the spotted lanternfly has been found, known as quarantine zones.
As of May 8, those businesses and their drivers are required to carry special permits. They also must carefully inspect their vehicles and keep track of what they see using inspection logs, said Shannon Powers, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture in Harrisburg.
The inspection logs include whether spotted lanternflies or their eggs were found and destroyed, or if a vehicle and its cargo were clear.
The state can apply penalties of up to $20,000 for violations, along with a range of fines. Powers said the highest fines would go to repeated offenses or flagrant disregard for the quarantine.
Spotted lanternfly poses a direct threat to agricultural commodities including plants and crops, Powers said. “It is a threat to our economy overall.”
The spotted lanternfly is a nimble hitchhiker that easily hops onto trucks, cars, buses, trailers and building materials. They are natives of China, India and Vietnam and were first discovered in Pennsylvania in Berks County, according to the state agriculture department.
Adults spread when they leave an infested area and move on to fresh pastures.
Females lay their egg masses on hard, stable surfaces. The off-white to gray mass hardens and looks like crusty dried putty. Egg masses, which can contain up to 50 eggs, can be removed by scraping them, and placing them in a sealed bag with rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer, or burned.
To stem the insect’s migration law enforcement is teaming up with the Department of Agriculture to conduct random spot checks. The checks could be added to the existing motor carrier safety assistance program, in which state police conduct random safety checks at weigh stations, and on frequently traveled roadways.
“State police will have the ability to issue criminal violation citations up to $300 during those inspections,” Powers said.
She said law enforcement would be trained to read the spotted lanternfly logs.
Mark Bader, materials manager for Acteon Networks LLC in Fort Washington, Montgomery County, manages the firm’s fleet of about a dozen vehicles. Montgomery is among the quarantine zones.
Bader recently completed a free online course from the Penn State Extension called Spotted Lanternfly Permit Training for Business online course. Acteon’s offices are located in Montgomery County, one of 14 quarantine zones so far in southeastern Pennsylvania.
“Before [employees] leave the site if they’re traveling outside the quarantine zone, they must complete a [physical] inspection, remove any insects they find and complete the lanternfly certificate of inspection log sheets,” Bader said. Permits and inspection log sheets are kept in each vehicle.
In turn, Bader is training the firm’s technicians, who may also take the online course so they can inspect their own vehicles before leaving the office.
Employees will be responsible for regularly checking their vehicles and keeping log reports up to date.
“It’s a self-enforcing policy … and we’re taking this very seriously. Obviously the fines are a big motivator, too,” Bader said.
The quarantine area includes 14 counties, mostly in southeastern Pennsylvania (see sidebar).
While businesses now are required under Pennsylvania law to inspect vehicles traveling outside the quarantine zone, home and property owners can help.
Before leaving a quarantine zone drivers are urged to regularly check vehicles before travel and remove and destroy insects or suspected egg masses.
“Whether a business or a homeowner, the idea is to restrict the movement of this invasive pest,” said Amy K. Korman, a horticulture extension educator with Penn State Extension.