A multiyear program set up to combat potentially destructive spotted lanternflies has been discontinued in Lancaster County due to a lack of funding.
The program — run by the Lancaster County Conservation District — expired last year, ending district-led efforts against the bugs on both private and public lands.
“I was sorry to see it go,” District Manager Christopher Thompson said of the program, which grew in popularity as local lanternfly populations increased.
“That drove its success more than anything,” he said. “We were certainly getting recognized for the good work that was happening.”
Now, Thompson said, that work likely will be left to others — namely officials at the state Department of Agriculture and Penn State University, who’ve long led Pennsylvania’s efforts to research and control the bugs.
That’s true as state efforts shift toward places newly infested with the insects and other areas likely to facilitate their spread.
Bugs arrived here in 2017
While the bugs have so far not caused as much damage as some feared, they remain a signficant threat to some agricultural crops and other plants.
Lancaster County has been within the state’s spotted lanternfly quarantine zone since 2017, becoming infested in the years after the foreign bugs first arrived in the United States.
Since then, stakeholders have looked for ways to contend with the insects, especially on agricultural land, where the lanternflies’ feeding habits are potentially harmful to certain crops.
As part of that work, officials at the State Department of Agriculture had made grant funding — a combination of state and federal dollars — available to conservation districts in infested areas to cover costs of related education and control efforts.
In Lancaster County, two grants totaling $382,000 were awarded to the local district from 2018 to 2020, according to Sallie Gregory, a district education coordinator.
With those funds, the district launched its lanternfly program, Thompson said. He described the program as three-pronged, explaining it was set up to educate members of the public about the problem and implement a limited number of control projects on both municipal and private land.
16 municipalities here got help
Over the course of the program, 16 local municipalities took advantage of the help, which allowed them to treat ailanthus trees — a favorite of the lanternflies, according to Gregory. Also, more than 2,600 ailanthus trees — commonly known as tree of heaven — were treated on private land, she said.
On top of that, district employees were able to distribute 505 lanternfly traps for use on municipal property and another 900-plus to members of the public, Gregory said.
The program was led, at least in part, by two dedicated lanternfly technicians hired by district officials.
But funding ended last year, and the Lancaster County Conservation District’s program has since been eliminated, left without another grant commitment.
And it’s still unclear whether additional grant dollars could be made available to conservation districts in the coming months, according to Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Shannon Powers. That’s largely because both federal and state decision-makers have not yet made related funding available to the department, she said.
State and federal efforts
In the meantime, state and federal agriculture officials are continuing work to control the insects in priority areas, including transportation corridors, which could play a greater role in the lanternflies’ spread.
“In other words, the types of properties that will have priority for government-funded treatment are not necessarily the types of properties accessible to conservation districts,” Powers said. “This will likely limit funding to conservation districts.”
The total number of quarantined counties is now 34.
And even if funding is made available to the Lancaster County Conservation District, that doesn’t mean the program will be resumed immediately, Thompson said.
Still, there is a possibility that some work could continue in areas previously targeted by the Lancaster County Conservation District, Powers said.
“The department has asked the conservation districts to provide us with priority sites that are in need of treatment,” she said. “Once federal and state funding levels are known, the department will be able to determine what treatments will continue.”
Don Ranck, president of the Lancaster County Farm Bureau, said it’s disappointing to lose a local program, but he’s been encouraged by the fact that the bugs haven’t contributed to major crop loss in the county.
To Ranck, it’s a sign that local farmers have learned to live alongside the insects, targeting them with traps and pesticides when necessary.
“I was really concerned about it three years ago, but ... I think the destruction was less than was expected, and there are ways to deal with it,” he said.
That doesn’t mean county residents should now ignore the insects, which are likely to begin hatching in the next few weeks, Gregory said. She offered a list of related online resources at linktr.ee/SpottedLanternflyLCCD and encouraged residents to “keep on squishing these invasive bugs.”