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Government officials address invasive species problems

FILE - This Sept. 19, 2019, file photo shows a spotted lanternfly at a vineyard in Kutztown, Pa. According to Rhode Island state environmental officials, Friday, Aug. 6, 2021, the insect that can cause damage to native trees and agricultural crops has been found recently in the state. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

Coordinated efforts, better funding, and education can help better control and eradicate certain invasive species across the state.

Government leaders and other officials spoke to the problem during a Center for Rural Pennsylvania webinar Tuesday hosted by state Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township.

Yaw, chair of the Center, called the issue one of great concern for the state.

It’s a problem that impacts waterways, farms, the overall environment and even the economy, state Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding said.

Research published by the Center in 2019 estimated a direct economic impact of $13.1 million annually to the state’s agriculture because of the spotted lanternfly.

“That’s an estimate for the damage to one industry and economy for just one of many invasive species,” Yaw said.

A big problem, he said, are the late responses to invasive species situations after they arise.

State Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn said her agency supports a partnership approach for battling the problem.

“Invasive species are a growing part of our (DCNR’s) work,” she said.

Among the most prevalent of invasive species in the past 30 to 40 years has been the gypsy moth, which has devastated forest lands and other areas including those for recreation.

She estimated that it will likely cost the state between $5 and $7 million in treatment costs next year.

“We see ourselves really ramping up,” she said, while adding that limited staff and resources make the battle difficult.

Yaw said quick action and concentrated effort are needed for dealing with all invasive species.

Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission Executive Director Timothy Schaeffer testified how invasive aquatic species crowd out native species in streams.

An example is the flathead catfish, native to western Pennsylvania, which has found its way into the eastern side of the state including the Susquehanna River.

His agency, he said, is also working with the Department of Agriculture to update regulations on invasive species.

“We hired our own aquatic invasive species person. So we are really taking this seriously,” he said.

He talked about the possibility of boat cleaning mandates to ensure watercraft do not bring about the spread of invasive species.

“There are exotics and reptiles that get introduced into streams we need to stop,” he said. “We are working to get materials off boats and not carried to the next location.”

Dunn noted that not only boats but unwashed boots or other footwear worn by boaters and anglers can lead to introduction of invasive species into a stream or lake.

Crawford County Conservation District Watershed Specialist Brian Pilarcik said cooperative efforts helped battle the problem of hydrilla, a submerged aquatic weed that brought the potential for ecological devastation at Pymatuning Reservoir.

A strategy was developed with funding from the federal government, the state, and neighboring Ohio to deal with the problem.

“Because of early action, a huge threat was stopped,” he said.

Preventive and rapid action, he said, are key to warding off great ecological harm.

Dr. Jayson Harper, professor of agricultural economics at Penn State University, said invasive species eradication is costly and often met with opposition.

Sarah Grove, chair of political science, Shippensburg University, noted no uniform efforts are in place to control invasive species.

She called for policies to address the issue including: promoting interagency cooperation, developing regulations for inspections of watercraft, and developing a funding mechanism for early detection and rapid response.

Yaw noted the success stories of dealing with invasive species.

“I think it is important we recognize the problem and impact it can have on all us,” he said.

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