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Are we getting bored with the lanternfly war?

Plus, Susquehanna River islands for sale.


August 12, 2022
Inside this edition: Name game, dream catch, park city, mead streets, island hopping, last words, and quiet on the spotted lanternfly front.

Berks County was named for Berkshire, England, but why?

(Keep scrolling for the answer, but don't miss all the good stuff in between. Like what you read? Forward this email to a friend.)

» One thing worth knowing: Major League Baseball is looking to branch out with its annual Field of Dreams game — currently played in an Iowa cornfield — and Beaver County is among the proposals, per AP.

» One thing worth sharing: Congratulations to Philadelphia for being declared the "first city to be 100% parking spots" by satire site The Onion. Motorists now travel out of town to block bike lanes.

» One thing worth trying: Mead is flowing in Meadville 234 years after the city's founding, per the Tribune. A new bar is serving up the medieval intoxicant, which, to my disappointment, is not the city's namesake.

» One thing worth seeing: Anyone here want to go in on a pair of Susquehanna River islands together? The islands have been off the market for more than a century, until now, The Burg reports. 

» One thing worth reading: Morning Call editor Mike Hirsch died last week at the age of 62 after years of living with Lou Gehrig's disease or ALS. In his last piece for the paper, Hirsch wrote his own obituary.

» COVID-19 UPDATE: Your guide to finding resources on cases, vaccines, and tests

» Critics call water quality bill moving through Pa. legislature a back door to privatization

» Penn State won’t answer key questions about its handling of sexual extortion involving student athletes

» The best Spotlight PA investigations of 2022 (so far)

» Spotlight PA tested government transparency in Centre County. Tell us what to look for in the salary data.

Much like HitchBOT, the hitchhiking robot, spotted lanternflies made it to Pennsylvania and were immediately targeted for annihilation.

In some ways, the robot — a Canadian traveler and social experiment famously dismembered on a roadside in Philly — got off easy. 

The lanternfly, by comparison, has unleashed and sustained the Quaker State’s blood lust for several years running. That’s largely thanks to state-issued kill-on-sight orders meant to curb the spread of the ecologically and economically threatening pest through altruistic violence.

But is the zeal for that violence starting to fade?

Brad Line — creator of the Squishr app, probably the best tool available for gauging such a thing — thinks so. He says app usage is down here and rising in other states where the invasive bug is new and the novelty of the hunt is still fresh.

“I think there’s a fatigue factor setting in,” Line told PA Local by phone. “I mean, we had some people [in Pennsylvania] who were spending hours a day squishing these things and recording them in the app. And, you know, after a year or two or a summer or two of doing that, you kind of say ‘OK, well, I've probably got better things to do with my time.’” 

Line added: “In the early going, we had people who were literally doing thousands of posts of dead bugs a day. There was this one woman who would literally fill five-gallon buckets with the carcasses of spotted lanternflies. It was insane.” 

Harriet Campbell, a retiree in Plymouth Meeting, Montgomery County, is that woman. At one point she was among the app’s most prolific users and amassed an astounding 13,000-plus confirmed kills. (She says she remains in the all-time top three.)

Campbell acknowledges her body count is down these days but says it isn’t apathy as much as opportunity: Her condominium removed several trees and the bugs just aren’t around like they used to be. 

“At one point they were all over the windows and walls, like soldiers marching. I had recently retired and they were driving me crazy. And so, you know, I just started whacking them. And then it became sort of an OCD thing and a passion.”

Campbell's bucket-o-bugs. (Via Philadelphia Inquirer)

Campbell said she walked a half mile in a single day along her apartment’s wraparound porch chasing the bugs — her weapon of choice, a flyswatter, clenched tightly in her fist. (The trick, according to Campbell, is standing behind the bugs, prolific jumpers themselves, and heading them off by bringing the swatter down from the front.) 

Her passion for lanternfly smashing was only turbo-charged by the leaderboards and shared purpose found on the Squishr app, which launched in 2019, months before pandemic lockdowns took hold and left more people, like Campbell, staring at their walls as this reviled — yet surprisingly photogenic — bug moved in.

But the reason for the decline in Pennsylvania usage of the app is, to Campbell’s point, most likely due to the fact that the bug's presence in the most populous part of the state — Philadelphia and its collar counties — has dropped sharply. (Billy Penn shares a few theories as to why.)

Roughly 90% of user posts on the Squishr app back in 2020 were from Pennsylvania, with only a few in northern New Jersey. It’s “roughly a 50/50 split between Pennsylvania and northern New Jersey / New York” now, Line explained.

His app, which has been updated and made more user-friendly since launching, is also gaining ground in western Pennsylvania, a newish frontier, and to a lesser extent Maryland. (Line, a director of technology for a financial services firm, said he does not make any money off Squishr.)

The spotted lanternfly, an Obama-era holdover, was first found in the U.S. in Pennsylvania — Berks County to be exact — in 2014. The state’s Department of Agriculture told PA Local that the first kill-on-sight orders for the non-native species went out soon after.

The premise of the Squishr app, inspired by Line’s children and the Litterati platform, was simple: incentivize the eradication of a potentially destructive pest and share data with state officials that could help track its spread in real-time.

The Department of Agriculture said aside from sample data received prior to its launch, no data was ever received from the app. Line said there were no “squishes” reported in any counties not already under related quarantines, making the data gleaned redundant. Spotted lanternfly quarantines are currently in place in 45 of 67 counties statewide.

Whether citizen-led bounties have really made a dent in the lanternfly population or prevented the kind of damage officials warned about is up for debate. A recent article in The Atlantic raises doubts.

But the bug is still definitely on the move, and experts are warning Pennsylvanians to check their cars before they travel for signs of hangers-on.

They’re the hitchhikers now. HitchBOT, rest in peace.

Colin Deppen, PA Local editor

Rise of the flamingos at Longwood Gardens, via @mar_sees_lifeSend us your photos, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag @spotlightpennsylvania.

Berks County was named for Berkshire, England, because it was the home of the family of William Penn — the man for whom Pennsylvania is named. 

And Reading, Pennsylvania — the seat of Berks County — was named after Reading, England, aka Berkshire's biggest town.

We wrote about Penn and the king-sized debt that created Pennsylvania in an earlier edition of this newsletter. Here it is, in case you missed it.

Thanks for reading PA Local! We'll see you back here next week. But first ... send us your feedback. What did you like? What didn't you like? What do you want to see more of? 

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