States Lean on Truckers to Halt Spread of Invasive Spotted Lanternfly
Date: Monday, June 24, 2019
Source: The Wall Street Journal
Quarantines are spreading across Pennsylvania and other mid-Atlantic states to stop a bug that hitches rides in shipping networks
An invasive, plant-hopping pest that hitches rides on trucks and other vehicles is spreading along busy transportation corridors in the mid-Atlantic region, threatening billions of dollars worth of commodities including grapes, hops and hardwood.
Truckers are being drawn into the fight to contain the spotted lanternfly as temperatures warm, spurring hatched eggs to develop into red-and-black winged adults. Carriers picking up or delivering freight in quarantined parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Virginia are being required to get permits certifying they have been trained to recognize and eliminate the insect, and in some cases could be fined for not meeting the demands.
While quarantines have been imposed to contain the spread of other pests, regulators say the spotted lanternfly poses a unique threat. Native to China, it feeds on a range of crops, weakening plants and excreting a sticky residue called honeydew that draws other insects and promotes the growth of sooty mold that can damage trees.
The spotted lanternfly was first seen in the U.S. in 2014 in Berks County, Pa., and likely arrived hidden on goods imported from Asia, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It has since spread to 14 counties in Pennsylvania—home to some of the busiest distribution hubs in the country—and beyond.
The insect’s destructive potential is boosted by its ability to travel on vehicles and the widespread availability of its preferred host plant, an invasive weed commonly known as the tree of heaven that thrives in various conditions and grows widely in the Northeast U.S.
“We are a trucking corridor for the mid-Atlantic,” said Shannon Powers, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, which introduced the permits last year. “To reproduce, it has to feed on the tree of heaven, an invasive tree species that lines virtually every road, highway, rail bed throughout the mid-Atlantic region and much of the U.S.”
The permit system requires commercial operators stopping in quarantined parts of Pennsylvania to take a free course, available online, on how to identify the pest and help prevent its spread. Companies must then train employees on practices such as vehicle inspection and destruction of living lanternflies.
Pennsylvania has issued more than 881,640 permits since 2018, Ms. Powers said. The regulators estimate industries worth a total of $18 billion to the state’s economy could be affected by the insect.
State police can pull trucks over to check for permits and issue fines of up to $20,000 for noncompliance, although none have been imposed yet and actual fines would be smaller and based on the severity of the violation, she said. “The focus is on educating business travelers on how to recognize the insect and keep from transporting it.”
Neighboring states where the spotted lanternfly has been found have implemented similar permitting requirements.
Three New Jersey counties are under state quarantine, as is one county and the city of Winchester in Virginia, a spokeswoman for the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said. Delaware regulators have issued an emergency quarantine in parts of New Castle County, she said, and one adult insect was detected in Maryland in 2018, though regulators there don’t believe there is an established population and the state doesn’t have any quarantines or permit requirements.
In New York, which is considered at high risk for infestation, regulators are requiring certificates of inspection for travelers moving regulated articles including trucks, yard waste and outdoor equipment such as lawn mowers and grills from the affected states.
The mandates have raised grumbles among truckers, although some regard it as a necessary step to control the pest.
“You’re looking for hitchhikers. It’s just a few extra minutes,” said Jacqui Rogers, who handles operations for Rogers Trucking, a Laurel Hill, Fla.,-based motor carrier under the authority of her truck-driver husband, Joseph Rogers, that hauls freight in 48 U.S. states.
“We try to follow the guidelines, not to park under the trees it feeds on,” she said this month. “We haven’t come across [the insect] so far, knock on wood.”
Transportation software company Pegasus TransTech LLC is working with Pennsylvania regulators to share spotted lanternfly information through its Transflo Mobile+ app, which drivers use to map routes and for other work-related tasks, by using an access code BUGBGONE.