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By AP file photo/California Department of Food and Agriculture
BY COURTENAY EDELHART Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
A long-dreaded day has arrived with the first local detection of an invasive insect that could devastate the region's citrus industry.
An Asian citrus psyllid was detected on private residential property in Wasco Friday, the first siting in Kern County. It wasn't diseased, though.
The insect had previously been found to the north in Tulare County and to the south in Los Angeles County, but had not been spotted in Kern.
Local citrus growers are extremely anxious about the threat of so-called citrus greening disease, known as huanglongbing in China, where it originated. The illness isn't harmful to people or animals, but it ruins fruit and eventually kills citrus trees.
The bacterial disease is carried on the Asian citrus psyllid. Not every psyllid is a carrier, but the disease cannot spread without the pest, which transmits it by feeding on the liquid inside citrus leaves.
The male insect detected Friday was not infected with the disease, but officials are doing everything they can to prevent a full-fledged infestation.
"It would literally wipe out the citrus industry in this valley," said Agricultural Commissioner Ruben Arroyo. "That's what happened in Florida."
Florida biologists first detected the pest in 1998 and found the disease in 2005. Both are now in all 30 citrus-producing counties there.
Citrus is Kern's sixth largest agricultural commodity by value, according to the Kern County Department of Agriculture and Measurement Standards. Last year the county's citrus crop was valued at $620,350,000, and 53,747 acres of citrus were harvested.
The offices of the Kern County Agricultural Commissioner, the California Department of Food and Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday began an extensive survey and treatment program in response to the find.
Hundreds of traps are being hung in a five-square-mile area where the psyllid was found.
If any of those traps yields an infected psyllid, the area could be placed under quarantine.
"Hopefully it's just an isolated incident," Arroyo said. "We will have to wait and see what the CDFA says about how we're going to deal with it."
In addition to California, the pest and disease have been found in Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina and Texas.
The psyllid but not the disease is in Alabama, Arizona and Mississippi.
The Asian citrus psyllid is a winged insect that sort of resembles a moth. It has a light brown head and a mottled brown body. Adults are three to four millimeters long.
The first signs of the disease in trees are seen in the leaves. Look for yellowing along the veins or a blotchy mottle of leaves.
Residents who think they may have seen the pest or an infected tree are urged to call the state's exotic pest hotline at 800- 491-1899.
For more information on the Asian citrus psyllid and huanglongbing disease visit: www.cdfa.ca.gov/plant/acp/.