News Release: Strategies Identified for Successful Outreach to Reduce the Spread of Forest Pests on Firewood

Press Release for August 1, 2022
Contact: Angelica Solano: lsolano@clemson.edu

Collaborative study determines effective messengers, language choices, and modes of delivery for disseminating educational information on how firewood choices can impact forest health.

A recent study done in collaboration between The Nature Conservancy’s Don’t Move Firewood campaign and researchers from Clemson University showed that most people in the United States don’t know firewood can harbor invasive forest insects and diseases, but when targeted education materials are used effectively, they can learn and are likely to change their behavior. Researchers analyzed data from five surveys conducted from 2005 to 2016 to investigate what outreach on the firewood pathway can accomplish, and what are the most effective messengers and methods when educating the public on invasive pests and forest health.

The study showed less than half of the public (39%) said they have heard or seen firewood messaging and less than a quarter (19%) were aware of state laws or firewood regulations. Angelica Solano, lead author of the recent study published in Biological Invasions, said “we got feedback directly from the public on how to communicate better with them about insects and diseases spreading through firewood. We found that while the Don’t Move Firewood campaign and its partners have demonstrably increased the public’s awareness, there’s a strong need for continued and improved collaborative outreach efforts via effective modes, messengers, language choices, and message framing.”

Findings from the study suggest that the two best ways to reach the public with firewood educational messages are through campsite reservation confirmation emails and flyers handed out at parks. Additionally, the results of the study indicate that people trust forestry-related public agencies the most to learn about forest health issues.

Combining both pre-visit digital messaging with physical outreach materials when a visitor arrives improves the likelihood that the public will encounter and incorporate safer firewood behaviors over time. As Solano states, “conveying information directly to the public in ways that they will pay attention to, rather than having them look for the information, should improve message delivery.”

For all types of outreach materials, success hinges on effective phrasing to generate attention, and a positive framing was found to be most effective. As Solano said, “messages should focus on encouraging the public to make better choices, including how they will benefit from such choices. Using clear examples and language that encourage a positive call to action or ‘promotion’ rather than a reactive or ‘prevention’ approach, should be the first choice by outreach professionals.”

Finally, outreach campaigns focused on invasive species and forest health are wise to collaborate with state agencies to coordinate educational outreach efforts. Forestry-related public agencies, including both state and federal forest professionals, are the most likely to be trusted and heard. According to Solano, “Outreach groups like non-profits, universities, and others that partner with trusted state and federal forest agencies will improve their message delivery, which in turn increases awareness.”

Awareness Increased over Time from Firewood Education Campaigns

Results of the study show that more than a decade of dedicated efforts by firewood educational campaigns like Don’t Move Firewood have led not only to increased awareness, but increased concern over the spread of harmful insects and pathogens via the firewood pathway.

“It’s great to see confirmation that our messages and outreach techniques are working- and it’s wonderful to have solid direction on where there is room for improvement,” said Leigh Greenwood, The Nature Conservancy’s Don’t Move Firewood program director. “Outreach needs to change with the times, so that we can reach people in the most effective ways possible. This study gives us the information we need to protect trees and forests from the pests that travel on the firewood pathway.”

To access the study in Biological Invasions, visit:
Solano, A., Rodriguez, S.L., Greenwood, L., Rosopa, P.J., and Coyle, D.R. 2022. Achieving effective outreach for invasive species: firewood case studies from 2005-2016. Biological Invasions.
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10530-022-02848-w

To access the study via Springer Nature SharedIt, visit:
https://rdcu.be/cRRVH

To request a copy of this study from the author, contact the lead author at lsolano@g.clemson.edu

To learn more about Don’t Move Firewood and the ways you can help prevent the spread of harmful forest pests and diseases please visit https://www.dontmovefirewood.org/

To download a pdf version of this press release click here: Solano 2022 press_release_FINAL

Free Downloads for Tree Check Month 2022

August is Tree Check Month! Everyone is encouraged to take 10 minutes to check their trees for signs of the Asian longhorned beetle. To help you learn about the beetle, or to provide materials for your outreach needs, we’ve rounded up all the best free resources that we could find!

Infographics and Handouts:

Fun Outreach Items for Kids:

Template text to paste into outreach statements:

  • Report findings by calling 1-866-702-9938 or completing an online form at www.AsianLonghornedBeetle.com
  • (Your organization can help by encouraging the public to check / You can help by checking) trees for signs of the Asian longhorned beetle in August. Look for round exit holes, shallow scars in the bark, sawdust-like material on or around tree, and the beetle itself.

Past blogs and News Releases:

Social Media Tips:

Educational Videos:

General Information:

Highlights: States with Excellent Firewood Outreach

We want to recognize the excellent efforts shown by the following states- each of which provide great examples of consistency and thoroughness in their outreach on firewood and forest health!

An online outreach environment integrated across different state agencies and jurisdictions greatly increases the chance visitors will encounter important information on invasive species as they relate to forest health and the firewood pathway. This year we undertook the meticulous task of hunting through the internet in search of firewood outreach for every US state and territory across the following four key metrics: 1) state agency (non-parks) site, 2) cooperative extension site, 3) state lands/parks management site, and 4) recommendations found during the booking process for reserving a state parks campsite.

Out of the 50 US states and 5 territories, we’ve chosen some of the best online outreach examples among four states to highlight their excellent online firewood outreach. Easily accessible information as well as repetition and consistency work together to drive the message home that responsible firewood choices make a difference. Everyone has a part to play in the conservation of our natural resources! Below you’ll find some of the best firewood-focused pages as well as comments from some of the people hard at work in these states to spread the word on firewood and forest health.

Michigan

Check out the centralized page that Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has on firewood outreach: Firewood Facts: Buy It Where You Burn It . Several related pages were found that really lay out the rules and best practices for firewood use in the state including: Firewood Local Rules and Laws, Firewood Education and Outreach: Spread of Invasives, and Firewood Certification and Standards. These pages provide easy to read information in multiple locations, increasing the chance that the messages reach their intended audience.

“Michigan has a strong commitment to healthy forests and urban landscapes, and we’ve experienced the devastating impacts of invasive species on these important resources,” said Joanne Foreman, Michigan Department of Natural Resources invasive species communications coordinator. “Early adoption of the “Don’t Move Firewood” campaign, state support for an interagency invasive species program and collaboration with Michigan State University Extension assures coordination of our firewood outreach and policy efforts.”

Icon with embedded link to firewood rules page found with high visibility on general Michigan State Parks page.

 

South Carolina

South Carolina Forestry Commission has an informative centralized Forest Health: Don’t Move Firewood page promoting responsible firewood use and best practices, as well as clearly written resources on Clemson’s Department of Plant Industry regulatory services page, Firewood Movement. Together, these two pages reinforce South Carolina’s firewood messages.

“We believe that addressing forest pest issues, like the movement of infested firewood, is best achieved through education that happens early and often- and we are fortunate in South Carolina to have so many other agencies and organizations proactively communicating with the public” says Haley Ritger of Clemson University’s Department of Plant Industry. “These collaborative efforts mean that people who live, work, or recreate around South Carolina forests are consistently learning how they can protect our natural resources from forest pests.”

 

Banner add found at the top of SC Forestry Commission page on firewood.

 

Indiana

Indiana Department of Natural Resources has a centralized Firewood Rules page with clear and concise information on the firewood allowed on state lands. Links to this resource were found with complimentary imagery throughout related agency sites and pages, which increases the chance that visitors will find this resource without actively searching for it.

“Outreach is something we really concentrate on here in the Indiana DNR.” says Megan Abraham, the State Plant Regulatory Official in Indiana. “We have really great partners, including- our DNR staff (Parks and Forestry), agricultural extension in each of our 92 counties, our Purdue University Partners assisting us with Forest Pest Outreach and webinars like EAB University, and most importantly our landholders and members of the general public- and they are what makes us successful in discovering and managing the invasive species that Indiana has found within its borders.”

 

Firewood graphic with embedded link found on agency pest page in Indiana. We strongly recommend including firewood information and resources on all relevant pages.

 

Nebraska

Check out Nebraska’s Invasive Species Program page: Don’t Move Firewood! for some great ideas on how to highlight the firewood pathway. This is an excellent example of an invasive species program affiliated with a state university that gives firewood the attention it needs with clear firewood guidelines and plenty of resources for visitors to learn more. This page even has a DMF video!

 

NE also provides a great example of how to include firewood recommendations in a state with no regulations on the movement of firewood onto state lands. This tidbit is found with high visibility on the State Parks Camping page.

Firewood Month 2021 Partner Graphics Awards

We are excited to announce the Don’t Move Firewood campaign’s very first Firewood Month Partners Graphics Awards! We are so grateful for the amazing work our partners do to protect forests across North America, as well as the effort they put into amplifying the important messaging on best firewood practices. We were thrilled to see so many social media posts and e-newsletters sporting Don’t Move Firewood graphics, hashtags, and messaging. In addition to sharing our outreach materials, we saw many of you post your own awesome pictures, graphics, and infographics during the 2021 Firewood Month. And while they were all pretty great, we would like to highlight what we considered to be the best of the best!

So, without further ado…

The 2021 Partner Award: Best Firewood Month Infographic goes to Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources!
Shared by PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources on October 29, 2021 via Facebook and Twitter

 

The 2021 Partner Award: Most Compelling Firewood Month Visuals goes to BOTH Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry AND Minnesota Department of Agriculture
Image created by Minnesota Department of Agriculture and Shared, with permission, by Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry on October 7, 2021 via Facebook

 

The 2021 Partner Award: Best Pest Profile with Call to Action goes to Mississippi Bug Blues
Shared by Mississippi Bug Blues on October 25, 2021 via Facebook and Twitter

 

Finally, the 2021 Partner Honorable Mention: Best Firewood Month Turn of Phrase goes to Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service! This was posted during Firewood Month LAST year (2020), but we loved it so much we decided to give it an award anyway.
Shared by the Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service on October 19, 2020 via Facebook

 

Thank you to all our partners for sharing your important and creative content; these messages encourage best firewood practices, protect forests from harmful forest pests and diseases, and work together to create a comprehensive Firewood Month approach across the country. We would not have the impact we do without YOUR help and support. And remember, while Firewood Month 2021 may be over, your firewood choices matter all year long!

Campaigning for Conservation

Guest blog by Laurel Downs, The Nature Conservancy

My friend’s backyard pile of very likely pest-infested firewood. Photo credit: L. Downs, The Nature Conservancy. Wood credit: Bobby Kresch. Now don’t you go movin that firewood, Bob.

 

The overall goal of the Don’t Move Firewood campaign boils down to protecting trees in North America from destructive pests and diseases. We want to heighten awareness around the fact that infested or contaminated firewood is one of the most common ways by which invasive forest pests spread to new areas. We provide direct and simple information on 1) how firewood can spread pests, 2) the pests themselves, and 3) what practices we recommend to avoid spreading pests on firewood. This is a classic educational effort to change human behavior; people can help protect trees by making responsible firewood choices.

Simple, right?

If only. Turns out people are much more complicated than that, and stacks on stacks of research suggests that information alone is not enough. A science communication strategy that assumes people will alter their behavior with new information – the knowledge-deficit model – often falls short because factors such as values, attitudes, social norms (essentially the desire to fit in), and socioeconomic circumstances are key drivers of human behavior. To be effective, our campaign’s messaging needs to not only inform, but appeal to the wildly variable population that our campaign aims to reach- basically anyone and everyone who ever uses firewood.

Example of a firewood graphic we use to promote local firewood use. Check out our Resource Library for more.

 

Thus emerges the profoundly important old adage “it’s not what you say, but how you say it.” Except, now we know that it also matters when you say it. And how often. And in what context. And with what graphics. And on what platform… because merely getting the word out morphs into somewhat of a monumental task when you consider the competitive digital landscape the whole world now deals with. Ads, current events, politics, social media, and other modern-day distractions bombard the senses of just about everyone with an internet connection. The complex algorithms that generate much of what we see day-to-day online can be an obstacle as well, since our conservation-based communications are likely to disproportionately reach people who are already conservation-minded. Many of the folks we reach may already know about the risks involved with moving firewood. In other words, we might be preaching to the choir… and that wastes time and money. We need to reach everyone in the big tent original audience- i.e., all firewood users.

Whew. So many obstacles. How do we cope? Why do we try?

Well, because anyone who is passionate about conservation knows we’ve got to keep on truckin’. It’s true that passing along the straight-forward notion of using local firewood presents a challenge in and of itself. It’s also true that even when our message manages to escape the void, bounce off the choir, and finally inform a new firewood user, it may not change their behavior. But it’s a crucial first step. And in our efforts to navigate the complexity of the human psyche, we put painstaking thought into Every. Single. Word. (Sometimes every syllable! Check out our Facebook page for our new “Hump Day Haiku” series every Wednesday. It’s fire.)

Thankfully, we’re not making our communication choices in the dark. Many years of research help inform our wording, the audiences we try to reach, and even what sorts of graphics we use. Most recently, the Don’t Move Firewood campaign collaborated with researchers at Clemson University to help better understand their big public polling datasets on the most effective phrasing and messengers for a positive response among the public; that research should be published soon so that everyone can benefit from the in-depth look it provides. Additionally, this past summer the Don’t Move Firewood campaign hired summer analysts who spent countless hours researching, synthesizing, and translating stiff regulatory information into succinct summaries so folks can quickly learn the firewood rules and recommendations in their area or destination (see our Firewood Map). We also regularly reach out to diverse stakeholders and coordinate with governmental, non-governmental, academic, and industry partners alike to amplify important firewood messaging as well as keep our information up-to-date.

We regularly collaborate with partner outreach campaigns like PlayCleanGo and Hungry Pests to communicate responsible recreation practices.

 

Ultimately, while the inner workings of our outreach campaign are complex, we try to keep our message as simple as possible. Prevention is our best defense against invasive species, and everyone has the power to take preventative measures to protect our forests. For starters, please… Don’t Move Firewood.

 

In the Epicenter of the Spotted Lanternfly Infestation

Guest blog by Laurel Downs, The Nature Conservancy

Last summer I sat on the back porch of my parents’ house along the Schuylkill River in Berks County, Pennsylvania and watched what I thought was a very peculiar weevil-like bug awkwardly wander across the floorboards. Gangling legs moved like feelers topped with a broad body that tapered into a mile-long face saddled with bulging black eyes.

Out came the smartphone for identification- identifying all things animal or insect is my favorite. Low and behold this creature was not an adorably awkward weevil but the nymph stage of a notorious new invasive – the spotted lanternfly. Spotted lanternflies are native to Asia, and they were first officially detected in Berks County Pennsylvania in 2014 (but they were likely meandering porches and tree trunks about two years prior to that.) The first three immature (called “instar”) stages give the nymph a black body speckled with white dots. The fourth and final instar comes with a vibrant red coloration throughout the body; it retains the red to some extent in the winged adult phase.

Well, you know what they say, once you’re looking for a white truck, you see them everywhere. (Do they say that?) Sure enough, my mom and I started spotting the goofy little buggers all over. Live ones, dead ones, and empty exoskeletons with circular holes in the top – maybe predation or metamorphosis?

A group of 4th stage instar nymphs in Berks County PA. Photo credit: L. Downs, The Nature Conservancy

Anyway, this year I stuck around long enough to see the nymphs turn into just-as-awkward, yet oddly beautiful adults. Appreciation for aesthetics aside, these invasive insects are more trouble than they’re worth. So much so that the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture asks for the public’s help in their spotted lanternfly alert in which they give the following advice for those who encounter the insect:

Kill it! Squash it, smash it…just get rid of it.

It’s important to note that in many places, you should both squish AND report these pests. Here in Berks county, we’ve had this pest for a while- but in many places, it’s very important to report it if you see them!

As a nature lover, killing is not a go-to task for me with any living creature, but with the SLF, it may be necessary considering the serious threat these insects present to our natural, agricultural, and cultural resources. The spotted lanternfly (SLF) feed on, and subsequently damage, many tree species and crops; to add insult to injury, they produce a sugary excrement known as “honeydew” in the process which attracts stinging insects and sooty black mold. At the very least, a generous coat of sticky-sweet bug poo everywhere can put a real damper on one’s ability to enjoy outdoor recreation, but SLF infestation poses an even greater threat to the health of our farms and forests- and they’re spreading.

An adult spotted lanternfly succumbs to a spider web. Photo credit: L. Downs, The Nature Conservancy

In 2021, PA expanded their SLF quarantine, and many nearby states are following suit. While the insect is able to fly, humans are likely to facilitate their spread in rapid fashion by unwittingly chauffeuring them and/or their eggs. Each female SLF can lay between 30-50 eggs which she will happily plop down on almost ANY outdoor structure; we’re talkin’ cars, RVs, lawn furniture, plastic flamingos (probably), camping gear, and you guessed it, firewood.

 

An adult spotted lanternfly hanging out on my tire as I gassed up my vehicle. I now notice them wherever I go in Eastern and Central PA. Photo credit: L. Downs, The Nature Conservancy

Luckily more and more Pennsylvania folk are recognizing this flamboyant bug and taking the necessary…um…steps…to, quite literally, squash the problem. It’s not much, but it’s an honest effort on behalf of the public to be mindful of their surroundings and the threats to our resources. It will take more, however, to contain the spread of these conspicuous troublemakers. Fall is upon us and this is when females begin to lay rather inconspicuous eggs.

So, if you are traveling anywhere this fall, make sure to check over your vehicle and recreational items before taking them across county lines. If you are living or staying in an area quarantined for spotted lanternfly, use this checklist to ensure you don’t leave with any tree-pest stowaways looking for new territory. And please, for the love of our forests, leave your firewood at home. Buy it where you burn it.

An adult spotted lanternfly taking a break from its destructive ways to sneak over my shoulder for a selfie. Photo credit: L. Downs, The Nature Conservancy

 

Helpful Spotted Lanternfly Links: