California quarantines area in citrus belt over killer pest

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California officials have quarantined an area in the state's citrus belt after the discovery of tiny pests capable of killing citrus trees.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture said on Wednesday that 178 square miles in Tulare County have been quarantined following the detection two weeks ago of six Asian citrus psyllids around Porterville.

The quarantine prohibits the movement of nursery stock out of the area and requires citrus fruit to be cleaned of leaves and stems. Farmers must also spray their trees with insecticide.

The insects were first discovered in California in 2008, and similar quarantines are already in place in Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Diego, Imperial, Orange, Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

RELATED: Riverside rallies to save original California orange trees

The danger comes not so much from the insect itself, but from a bacterium it can carry called huang long bing. Riverside citrus historian Vince Moses told The California Report that in Chinese, huang long bing translates roughly as “the yellow shit disease. If the psyllid bites this parent tree, and injects huang long bing, they’re gone. There’s no known cure.”

A tree infected with huang long bing can contract citrus greening disease, which causes the leaves to curl and the fruit to have a bitter metallic taste.

Tracy Kahn, a botanist who curates UC Riverside’s Citrus Variety Collection, told The California Report that most infected trees die within a few years and that Florida has been losing trees "left and right."

Agriculture department spokesman Steve Lyle said the psyllids found in Tulare County did not carry the deadly bacteria that has decimated Florida's citrus industry.

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