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Fighting the Spotted Lanternfly – A Crisis in Pennsylvania

January 14, 2019

No one knows the exact origins of the Spotted Lanternfly, an insect, best known in Asia, that is a threat to trees. No one knows how it came into Pennsylvania, as its eggs can live for months on any surface.

What we do know is that the staff of a material supply company realized it had a potential threat when the Spotted Lanternfly was seen on their own grounds in a farm-rich county in Pennsylvania. The red, black and white bug sightings suggested there had been hatching nearby. The local Ailanthus tree (Tree of Heaven) was an ideal food source. The owner and operator of this supply company made sure they would be part of the solution. When the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture came for an inspection of the large grounds, the owner assigned many members of his staff to help.

Techniques to identify and remove the insect’s egg sacs were developed; a quarantine was placed on outgoing shipments until a full inspection was completed. The company participated in town hall meetings and worked closely with a university entomologist and state and local agencies.

When television media became interested, the owner turned to Neuger to focus on public education and partnering to contain this threat. If a crisis is defined by an act or event that causes a significant disruption to business, the Spotted Lanternfly created a crisis in this county and for this company. This crisis grew in scope as national customers received unannounced inspection visits by federal ag officials.

In spite of the impact on its business, the company stayed true to its goals to be transparent, honest and constructive in their communications. The owner made himself available to work with local universities, the USDA and other government officials and agencies. The Neuger team developed materials with photos and instructions to help prevent the spread of the insect. The company sent its quality control inspector to special training and became a model for its proactive work.

In 2016, our client received a Certificate of Appreciation from the Deputy Administrator of Plant Protection and Quarantine for taking decisive action on mitigating the threat of the Spotted Lanternfly.

The work is ongoing. In 2018, the threat of the Spotted Lanternfly raised its head again as it was learned more locations had experienced sightings. For this company, it meant doubling down on efforts to communicate with a new crop of people just learning about this bug. In the end, cooperation in the effort is the only way to fight off an insect that can hop almost anywhere.