Getting the public involved in tracking and reporting on invasive species

Michigan State University research scientists and Extension educators are teaming up to alert Michigan residents to potentially damaging invasive forest pests.

How do you get people to pay attention to important issues? You need a slogan. Catchy slogans have long been used, not only to bring attention to commercial products, but also to focus attention on public issues. At Michigan State University, research scientists and extension educators are teaming up to alert Michigan residents to potentially damaging invasive forest pests. Ideally, this project will increase the chances of detecting these serious pests early, before they get a solid foothold in Michigan forests or urban areas.

It’s probably safe to say that many research scientists are not very comfortable when it comes to creating effective advertising slogans or jingles. Few scientists can compete with advertising professionals who have already coined and copyrighted phrases, even if those phrases could be easily applied to other efforts, such as protecting Michigan from invasive forest pests.

For example, soon after the 9/11 terrorism attack in New York City, federal anti-terrorism experts began using the slogan If you see something, say something  to encourage citizens to report suspicious activity. That phrase, however, would be also be helpful in communicating with Michigan residents, who might notice an unusual insect or problem on a tree in their yard or woodlot.

Are there good alternatives to that federal slogan? How about “If your tree looks sick, tell someone - quick!” or maybe “If you see something of a different sort - then don’t hesitate - please report”. These may not be quite as catchy as the federal anti-terrorism slogan, but they still convey the importance of reporting unusual symptoms or weird insects that seem to be affecting the health of a tree, woodlot or forest.

Most Michigan residents have some experience with invasive forest pests. When gypsy moth populations periodically flare up, millions of hairy caterpillars will feed on the leaves of oaks, birch and other hardwood trees. Emerald Ash Borer, the most destructive forest insect to ever invade North America, got its start in southeast Michigan and has already killed hundreds of millions of ash trees in forest and urban areas. Unfortunately, still other invasive forest pests are poised to enter Michigan and once established, can cause further damage to trees in our landscapes and native forest ecosystems.

Thanks to funding from the Michigan Invasive Species Grant Program, educators and researchers at Michigan State University are launching a statewide effort to help residents learn about the risks and impacts of invasive forest pests. Entitled “Eyes on the Forest: Invasive Forest Pest Risk Assessment, Communication and Outreach,” this project links research, outreach and communication activities through the MSU Department of Entomology and Michigan State University Extension

Three major invaders will be targeted, including Asian Longhorned Beetle, which attacks maples and other species; Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, and Thousand Cankers Disease of walnut. Populations of these three pests are established in other states and in eastern Canada. All three can kill their host trees and could be devastating if they become established and spread across Michigan.

One unique aspect of this project will be the creation of a network of Michigan Sentinel Trees across the state. This effort will rely on an extensive network of trained volunteers who agree to adopt an individual tree, then periodically monitor and report on the condition of the tree over time. The more pairs of eyes out checking trees, the more likely it is that new pests or other problems will be detected early, before substantial damage occurs.

So as the saying goes,“If your tree looks sick, tell someone - quick!” Or is “If it you see something of a different sort– then don’t hesitate to report” catchier? Either one is useful if alert citizens help identify and report potential invasive forest pest problems before they get a real foothold in Michigan.

This project is currently ramping up and should be fully operational later this year. For more information about the Eyes on the Forest project, contact Dr. Deb McCullough at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or me, Russell Kidd, Eyes on the Forest Outreach Coordinator at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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