Spotted lanternflies, an invasive species that causes agricultural problems, laid eggs on trees found on Stewart Avenue. Now, the city is in the middle of cutting down at least 50 trees to eliminate the threat.
First found in the United States in 2014 after migrating from Asia, the spotted lanternfly was found in Ithaca last fall, threatening local vineyards, as the flies can destroy grape plants.
The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets is working with the state Department of Environmental Conservation to keep the spotted lanternfly population low. According to Brian Eshenaur, who coordinates New York State’s outreach effort for the spotted lanternfly, the Stewart Ave clusters are the only ones investigators have found in Ithaca so far.
According to city forester Jeanne Grace ’09, who oversees street tree planting and removal, inspectors from the New York State Agriculture and Markets had been in Ithaca throughout the winter and fall looking for egg masses.
“[Spotted lanternfly] like to lay their eggs on tree trunks, but also on stone, or things like rusty metal,” Grace said. “It seems like what initiates them to lay eggs is really the texture of the surface.”
After the investigators identified a group of trees with the egg masses on the block of Stewart Avenue, the city decided to chop down the trees because egg masses can sometimes lie on the upper top part of the canopy, which cannot be seen from the ground.
But according to Grace, the decision to chop down the trees wasn’t an easy one, weighing the costs of destroying trees and with taking precautions against the lanternfly eggs.
“It’s hard to make that decision to be like, ‘We’re going to take down all these trees just to be extra cautious,’” Grace said. “This insect is so destructive, that it’s better to take these trees down, and knock the population way down, rather than be less cautious and let the population just explode and take over the area.”
According to Eshenaur, investigators are optimistic that there are likely no other egg masses in Ithaca. If any egg masses survive, the nymphs will begin to hatch from the egg masses sometime in May.
“[The investigators] divided the area where it was found in the quadrant and looked around … and they went out about a mile, and they didn’t find anything,” Eshenaur said. “There is optimism that this might be it, no guarantees though.”
Spotted lanternfly infestations have mostly been clustered around Pennsylvania, New Jersey and parts of New York, including Staten Island. New York State is particularly focused on Tompkins County, as it is far from the main cluster of infestations, and the infestation in Tompkins County has not spread to neighboring counties.
“When [Pennsylvania] have had outbreaks like this, they have not been as aggressive and … they haven’t cut down all the trees and then they missed some,” Eshenaur said. “So, they spoke with us and said go in hard and then monitor. That’s what we were able to do here.”
Prof. Ann Hajek, entomology, said the spotted lanternfly could have been transported to Ithaca by visitors and that this could happen again in the future.
“[The spotted lanternfly] can travel on cars, in cars and on trucks. They can easily get moved around,” Hajek said. “We definitely want to slow the spread so that people will be more ready for the population with guests here, but I think that it’s hard for me to believe that they’re not going to keep arriving.”
Tompkins County wineries have been preparing for the possibility of the spotted lanternfly infestation. According to Katherine Chase, executive director at Cayuga Lake Wine Trail, wineries have been on the lookout for the insect.
Many industry organizations, like the Cayuga Lake Scenic Byway or the New York Wine and Grape Foundation, are hosting webinars and sending out information to alert people about what the spotted lanternfly looks like and what wineries should do in case of an infestation.
“They know how to spot it, and they’re training all of the vineyard crewson what it looks like,” Chase said. “They have scraper cards that were handed out by the Cayuga Lake Scenic Byway that tell you how to scrape them [eggs] off the tree and what to do with them if you do spot them.”
Ruthie Crawford, one of the owners of Lucas Vineyards in Interlaken, New York, said she will be on the lookout for any spotted lanternflies. Crawford said she’s concerned that the spotted lanternfly could threaten her family’s business.
“I’m not trying to be mean and make them extinct. We need to get them out of the Finger Lakes. They can’t be here, destroying our minds and our livelihoods,” Crawford said. “We’ve already survived COVID shutdowns and everything. I don’t understand how we could survive these bugs if they do get to our vineyard.”