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EDITORIAL: Spotted lanternflies present more problems than we might think

As lanternfly populations soar in New Jersey, we must consider larger trends and how to prevent future invasive species

The uptick in spotted lanternfly populations presents a plethora of problems that need urgent addressing, especially on campus.  – Photo by Magi Kern / Unsplash

It is that time of the year again: Spotted lanternflies are seemingly everywhere and anywhere. Need to go down the Academic Building stairs on the College Avenue campus? Lantern flies. Want to get sit on a bench peacefully at Passion Puddle on Douglass campus? Lantern flies. They are everywhere, and these little invasive creatures are not just unsettling — they are creepy.

Because of their ubiquitousness, every student has likely come into contact with them. But some students fare better than others. Sometimes, these pesky flies have been known to fly directly toward and land on students or even get tangled in hair.

They are a problem. The spotted lanternfly is actually indigenous to habitats of countries such as China, India and Vietnam. In the U.S., and certainly in New Brunswick, they are an invasive species. First discovered in the country in Berks County, Pennsylvania, in 2014, the lanternflies quickly moved into New Jersey and have since grown exponentially, in geographic reach and in their own population size.

As they have become more widespread, the threats they pose have also increased. Since they are an invasive species, they are dangerous to the region's ecosystem. Unfortunately, it only gets worse: There is no natural predator here to keep the lanternflies in check. While they do not really harm other animals or humans, they are dangerous to our agriculture. Plants, crops and leaves are all vulnerable to lanternflies and are at risk of being decimated by these pests.

Many state economies depend on some type of agricultural output. When lanternflies come into play, there could be serious economic consequences. A study from Penn State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences, for example, found that, if not contained, lanternflies could cost Pennsylvania at least $324 million annually and about 2,800 jobs. 

Although there are no direct analyses of the impact of lanternflies on New Jersey’s economy, the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, run by Rutgers, suggests that there could be serious economic impacts on the state and homeowner communities.

These problems underscore the need to take action against the lanternflies. They pose a threat to our wildlife, and they pose a threat to our economy.

Some might argue that it is morally questionable to kill lanternflies, but it is actually an even greater moral problem to let them go unchecked. Due to their invasive nature and the severe consequences they pose, we need to take any action possible to slow their growth.

To that end, we need to be proactive about killing them. If you see one, you should stomp on it. We do not need to go crazy and lust after killing them, but we should not shy away from eliminating them, either.

Likewise, Rutgers should take some action to both exterminate the flies and then also dispose of dead ones. It is jarring to walk down the Academic Building stairs and see so many dead flies. It is both aesthetically displeasing and also a hazard as a student could slip on a dead one.

Rutgers should also look to impose other measures that limit the growth of lanternflies. The New Jersey Department of Agriculture (NJDA) implemented a type of spotted lanternfly quarantine in different counties to prevent their continued spread. Rutgers should look at where the lanternflies gather the most and figure out how to best prevent them from leaving that area — even if that means limited groundskeeping or restricted access. 

NJDA also provides resources for trapping and exterminating lanternflies. One way to get lanternflies is to create a circled trap, which is an easy DIY project that can protect trees and kill the flies. 

These are some practical solutions that can be implemented by the University to ensure that we are doing our collective part to limit the population growth of these creatures.

Moreover, this moment also allows us to step back and realize the grave economic impacts of just one invasive species. As we contend with lanternflies, climate change surfaces here as a causal problem because the lanternflies thrive in a warmer climate. As we become a warmer region, it will become more difficult to contain them.

Perhaps even scarier is that if we do not address climate change, there will be more invasive species with potentially even more damaging consequences. 

The spotted lanternflies force us to think about, once again, the underlying crisis of climate change. If we do not take steps to become more sustainable and more climate-friendly, we will all have to get ready for more invasive species.

The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 154th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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