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This invasive bug species is a threat to the East Coast’s economy

The spotted lanternfly is a pest with a large appetite, and it could drain millions of dollars from the economy in New York and Pennsylvania

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A spotted lanternfly at a vineyard in Kutztown, Pa.

This Sept. 19, 2019, file photo shows a spotted lanternfly at a vineyard in Kutztown, Pa.

Matt Rourke, Associated Press

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., is pushing for an additional $22 million to be allocated towards exterminating the spotted lanternfly, an invasive species of bug that has the potential to cause millions of dollars in damage to the East Coast’s economy.

Originally from the Asian continent, the spotted lanternfly is a planthopper that feeds on more than 70 different species of plant. It lays its eggs on outdoor surfaces in the fall, such as tree bark, outdoor gear and vehicles, and is suspected to have made it to the United States via a stone shipment from China. The bug was spotted for the first time in the U.S. in Berks County, Pennsylvania, in 2014 and has since spread to 11 states, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

But it’s not the spotted lanternfly’s presence alone that makes agriculturists and economists nervous — it’s the millions of dollars in crops, tourism and jobs that this pest threatens, according to researchers in Pennsylvania.

Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences reported that if the spotted lanternfly is not properly contained, Pennsylvania alone will lose at least $324 million annually and roughly 2,800 jobs. The pest feeds on the sap of “fruit, ornamental and woody plants” that are crucial to the state’s economy, such as the timber and wine trades. The spotted lanternfly also excretes a sugary waste that acts as a breeding ground for mold and fungi.

“Our findings demonstrate that the vigorous response by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Penn State and industry stakeholders to limit the spread of spotted lanternfly is clearly warranted — our economy depends on it,” said Jayson Harper, professor of agricultural economics and director of Penn State’s Fruit Research and Extension Center.

Schumer asserts that the spotted lanternfly has been just as much of a threat for New York’s economy, as well.

“For years now, I have warned about the pest, but now we are demanding action because pockets of Upstate New York are now infested by the bug that wreaks havoc on trees, vineyards and crops,” Schumer said at a press conference in Central Park, a site currently infested with the spotted lanternfly. “This is a multimillion-dollar threat to New York’s economy — both tourism and agriculture are now at risk if the spotted lanternfly goes unchecked.”

According to The Hill, New York’s wine and grape industry has an economic impact of $6.65 billion annually, creates over 71,000 jobs and generates five million tourist visits per year. In addition, New York’s apple industry compares with $1.3 billion in total economic output, 8,000 jobs created and produces just under $4 million in gross domestic product to the state’s economy.

The Department of Agriculture has already invested $200 million into eliminating the pest, NBC New York reports, but Schumer has pushed for an additional $22 million in the budget plan laid out on Sunday to assist with extermination efforts. The state has been quarantining shipments between states, as well as conducting trapping surveys to track the spotted lanternfly population.

The general public has been warned of the bug’s presence, and the USDA has issued warnings and guides on how to properly identify and kill any of these insects that are sighted. The USDA urges anyone to report sightings of the spotted lanternfly by taking pictures and sending information to your state’s Department of Agriculture, or to the appropriate links listed on its website.