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San Gabriel Valley quarantine for citrus disease expands

San Gabriel Valley quarantine for citrus disease expands
The Asian citrus psyllid spreads citrus greening disease, which is lethal to citrus trees. (Michael Rogers / Associated Press)

Agricultural officials have expanded a quarantine in the San Gabriel Valley after discovering several more trees infected with citrus greening disease, a malady that has devastated orchards in Florida, Mexico and Brazil.

The quarantine, which extends more than 87 square miles around the city of San Gabriel, prohibits the movement of citrus plants but allows transfer of fruit that is professionally cleaned and packed, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

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"The stakes couldn't be higher for California citrus," said CDFA Secretary Karen Ross. "We urge residents in the San Gabriel area to do all they can to comply."

The disease, known as Huanglongbing or citrus greening, is spread by a bacteria carried by an insect, the Asian citrus psyllid. It was first detected in 2012 in Hacienda Heights, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

Two weeks ago, authorities reported another case in a kumquat tree on a residential property in San Gabriel, and began inspecting and treating citrus plants within 800 meters of the infected tree. They since have discovered the disease in a lime tree on an adjacent property and in calamondin and mandarin trees nearby, according to the state agency.

The new quarantine area runs south from East Orange Grove Boulevard to West La Habra Boulevard and west from North Lemon Avenue to Griffin Avenue.

Quarantines in response to the presence of the citrus psyllid already are in effect in 17 California counties, including Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Bernardino, the agency said.

California's $2-billion citrus industry, where 80% of the country's fresh citrus originates, has been concerned about spread of the disease since it first was detected in Florida in 2005.

Citrus greening disease has caused $2.9 billion in damage to Florida's citrus industry, and it was a driving force behind the decimation of Mexico's lime crop last year.

The bacteria does not pose a health threat to humans, but it attacks the citrus tree's vascular system, resulting in fruit that is hard, bitter and misshapen.

The disease has been detected in Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, Texas, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

At least 15 states or territories have quarantines in effect after detecting the bug that spreads the bacteria. Besides California and Florida, they are: Alabama, American Samoa, Arizona, Georgia, Guam, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Texas and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The USDA is ramping up efforts to release a predatory wasp to combat the psyllid and halt spread of the bacteria.

State officials are urging anyone who suspects insect or bacterial infestation to call the agency's toll-free pest hotline at 1-800-491-1899 or visit: http://www.cdfa.ca.gov/phpps/acp/

Follow me on Twitter: @LATgeoffmohan

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