Spotting Lanternfly Before It’s Too Late

December 12, 2019
Conservation Dogs Program Assistant Arden Blumenthal
New York-New Jersey Trail Conference

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Spotting Lanternfly Before It’s Too Late
Conservation Dog Fagen + Handler Joshua Beese. Photo by Arden Blumenthal.

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Is it possible that the nose of a dog can mean the difference between a healthy forest and a failing ecosystem? The Trail Conference believes so.

The spotted lanternfly (SLF) is hopping closer and closer to the Hudson Valley and northern New Jersey—and you need to be aware of the threat it poses to our region. First discovered in Berks County, Pa., in 2014, these plant hoppers are native to China, India, and Vietnam. They are thought to have arrived in the States as egg masses on a shipment of stone. These ravenous bugs feed on over 70 species of plants, including maple, walnut, fruit trees, and even grapevines and hops. SLF physically stress plants by draining vital nutrients and leaving sticky excrement that promotes the growth of harmful black mold. Should lanternfly proceed unchecked through New York and New Jersey, both the environmental and economic impacts of a lanternfly feeding frenzy could be significant. 

For perspective, New York alone has a $52.3 million annual grape yield contributing to a $4.8 billion wine and grape industry. As of September, there are a total of eight quarantined counties with established populations in New Jersey.  Certain goods or materials cannot be transported out of these counties without following strict regulations.  Even still, 11 counties in New York State have confirmed sightings of spotted lanternfly believed to be hitchhikers from travelers’ cars or equipment. The pest has been found in a total of eight states.

Until an effective solution to eradicate spotted lanternfly is found, land managers and state and federal agencies are focusing on keeping populations under control. Preventing the spread of SLF to other counties and states presents another challenge.

The Trail Conference has an innovative solution to this growing problem. Since August, our Conservation Dogs program has partnered with NYS Parks, NYS Department of Transportation, and USDA to conduct cargo searches and field surveys for spotted lanternfly. Because human eyesight is not always a reliable way to find these harmful bugs, conservation dogs’ incredible sense of smell is an ideal method to search for them.

This summer, program manager Josh Beese brought the first dog on our team, Dia, to Chester County, Pa., to train in the detection of SLF. Due to the magnitude of the threat, he additionally brought Fagen—the dog he works within FEMA search and rescue efforts—along for training. Both dogs succeeded in learning to detect adult spotted lanternfly and SLF egg masses and have been participating in our searches and surveys.

With financial and volunteer support, the Trail Conference can expand this program and keep spotted lanternfly and other invasive plant and pest species under control, limiting their impact. Find out how you can be part of the solution at nynjtc.org/dogs.

If you think you’ve seen a spotted lanternfly or an egg mass, please send a picture to [email protected] in New York or [email protected] in New Jersey.

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