News Analysis by Shanique Byrd -
Does the 25th District need four million taxpayer dollars to combat the spread of Spotted Lanternflies? Well, Congressman Joe Morelle seems to think so.
On June 2, Morelle introduced new legislation to tackle the little creatures. The act, named the “Spotted Lanternfly Research and Development Act,” would designate the invasive species as a high-priority research initiative for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
The congressman, who earns at least $174,000 per year, nearly three times the median income in the 25th District, helped secure $4 million for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS)—a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)—to combat the spread of the Spotted Lanternfly and “protect farmers and their crops.”
The USDA reported that the Spotted Lanternfly feeds on a wide range of fruit, ornamental and woody trees, with tree-of-heaven being one of the preferred hosts. Spotted lanternflies are invasive and can be spread long distances by people who move infested material or items containing egg masses. Juvenile spotted lanternflies, known as nymphs, and adults prefer to feed on the invasive tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima) but also feed on a wide range of crops and plants, including grapes, apples, hops, walnuts and hardwood trees.
In a press release, Morelle said “these crops—and the livelihoods of farmers who produce them—are being threatened by the invasive Spotted Lanternfly. Without action, these insects will devastate our region’s agricultural economy. I’m introducing bipartisan legislation to invest in critical mitigation efforts and stop this destruction before it is too late.” He added, "We need information in order to make the best business decisions, which will ultimately affect our community, so we're really excited about this. More information is never a bad thing and then what to do with that information is obviously up to you".
So, are the Spotted Lanternflies a problem in Morelle’s district?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported the first detection of the Asian native Spotted Lanternflies in Pennsylvania in September 2014. The pesky creatures were found in Staten Island, all New York City boroughs, Long Island, Port Jervis, Sloatsburg, Orangeburg, Ithaca, Binghamton, Middletown, Newburgh, Highland, and the Buffalo area, not the 25th District.
It appears that the $4 million problem has yet to cause any major damage.
According to Cornell University, the Spotted Lanternflies do not appear to be damaging trees or most agricultural crops but are having an impact on grapes and some other crops.
So, why is Morelle focused on a problem that hasn’t had any impact on his District?
The U.S. Census reported four hundred and eleven agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting businesses in the 25th District. It is unclear of the total number of farms that would suffer from an “imaginary Spotted Lanternfly invasion;” but Morelle found praise from an organization that would benefit from the multi-million dollar payday.
NY Farm Bureau President David Fisher verbalized his support for the congressman for making the (non)issue a priority.
“Research and education will be the best options to mitigate the spread and diminish its impacts,” Fisher said, according to a Rochester First article. “The New York Farm Bureau thanks Rep. Morelle for prioritizing funding in the next Farm Bill through the Spotted Lanternfly Research and Development Act that will expedite grants to learn more about combatting the pest."
The 25th District has a growing list of problems. Luckily, Spotted Lanternflies are not one of them, but apparently the elected official for the district wants his constituents to think so.
Nevertheless, if the annoying invaders magically appears in the 25th District, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture (NJDA) says many common spray insecticides that kill bugs on contact have proven effective against them. Chemicals can be injected into or onto trees to make them toxic for spotted lanternflies that try to feed. However, NJDA says the most proven way of killing a Spotted Lanternfly is to squish it.
We reached out to Congressman Morelle for comments, but we did not receive a response.