The devastation wrought by the emerald ash borer continues in Delaware County, but now a newcomer is taking its own toll. The spotted lanternfly, which first appeared in Berks County, eats hardwood trees and fruit crop.
Both invasive species originate in Asia. The emerald ash borer first appeared during the 1980s, although it wasn’t until 2002 that it was recognized in Detroit for feeding on ash trees. From there, it was swept across at least 27 states.
The spotted lanternfly, in comparison, is a newcomer; it was first discovered in 2014. Unlike the borer, the spread of the spotted lanternfly has been slow thanks to the efforts of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.
“Our goal remains to eliminate this pest from Pennsylvania and see to it that it does not spread elsewhere. But to do that, we need the public to help us by watching out for these pests, reporting new infestations, and ensuring that they don’t hitch a ride when you travel,” Agriculture Secretary Russel Redding said to philly.com.
Redding has good cause for concern. If the pervasiveness and damage of the emerald ash borer is any indication, the spread of the spotted lanternfly could produce some very serious consequences for the state of Pennsylvania.
But even without the spotted lanternfly, the forests of Pennsylvania are expected to suffer. Dr. Jon Gelhaus, who is a professor and curator of entomology at Drexel University, told NBC 10 in Philadelphia that when it comes to the emerald ash borer, some people are preparing for the worst.
“People are trying now to at least save seeds and deep freeze them so when we are able to get some kind of controls on this beetle that we can actually introduce ashes back into the forest,” he said.
While the problem might sound remote, the loss of the trees can have a much more immediate effect on Philadelphia residents. That is because the trees, once dead, become extremely brittle. Branches can fall even under the pressure of slight weight. Because no one can climb them, they also must be cut down in their entirety.
Even electrical uses might be affected. As more and more trees are cut down, households who have relied on the shade might find themselves having to pay more in heating costs. Considering that shrubs and trees save some households as much as 25% in energy costs each year, the spike in costs could be devastating, especially for lower income families.
Despite the worry, there is still hope. Scientists have been working to create ash trees better able to resist the pest.
As forest health manager for the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Donald Eggen said, “The beetle is killing 99 percent of the ash trees, so what is happening with the other one percent? That’s what we’re looking at.”