A quarantine zone for the crop-destroying spotted lanternfly has been expanded by a dozen counties, meaning the invasive insect can now be found across about a third of the state.
Lancaster County has been in the quarantine zone since 2017, but neighboring York County was among those added this year.
Officials at the state Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday that the spotted lanternfly quarantine zone would be expanded ahead of the bugs’ 2020 egg hatching season.
Allegheny, Beaver, Blair, Columbia, Cumberland, Huntingdon, Juniata, Luzerne, Mifflin, Northumberland, Perry and York counties have been added. A total of 26 counties are now in the quarantine zone.
According to department officials, the newly added counties are not completely infested, but they contain communities where lanternfly infestations have been reported.
"Most of these municipalities have already been aggressively treated," Bureau of Plant Industry Director Ruth Welliver said in a statement. "With continued aggressive treatment and monitoring and an actively engaged community, we can strike spotted lanternfly from these counties."
Pest-related damage costly
Within the quarantine zone, the department restricts movement of certain plants, landscaping materials and construction waste, among other items.
The lanternfly, which is native to Asia was first detected in Pennsylvania in 2014, specifically in Berks County.
The red, black and white insects feed on plants before excreting a sticky substance that can attract sooty mold, a dark fungus that can be damaging to crops, according to Sallie Gregory, education coordinator with the Lancaster County Conservation District.
An earlier Penn State University study warned that the invasive bug could deal billions of dollars worth of damage to Pennsylvania’s plant-based commodity markets.
Gregory mentioned concerns for Lancaster County's vinyards and orchards.
The insects were first detected in northeastern Lancaster County near its border with Berks County, Gregory said.
“It’s slowly been moving across the county,” she said.
Local efforts combating bug
Officials at the conservation district, funded by $250,000 in grant dollars, have deployed ongoing programs to combat the insects, providing public information about the pests, while also implementing measures to trap and kill the bugs.
The state’s 2020 Farm Bill also contains another $3 million earmarked for spending related to the spotted lanternfly, Department of Agriculture officials said.
"It's wreaking havoc for home and business owners,” state Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said in a statement. “Whether you think it's your job or not, we need every Pennsylvanian to keep their eyes peeled for signs of this bad bug – to scrape every egg mass, squash every bug, and report every sighting.”
Intentional movement of the spotted lanternfly is illegal and could lead to criminal or civil penalties.