The search for pysllids expands

Teams of state workers will have to inspect about 8,000 properties across Echo Park and Silver Lake as they hunt for a tiny pest that threatens the state’s giant citrus crop. Officials with the state’s Department of Food and Agriculture at a community meeting tonight said the treatment area for the Asian Citrus Psyllid will most likely have to be expanded as more of the pests are found on citrus trees across the area. “Every day it grows,” said program supervisor Tina Galindo of the infestation.

The treatment program steps into high gear on Friday as teams of workers fan out to look for citrus trees on properties located within about 1,200 feet of places where the bugs have been trapped (the psyllid had been trapped in at least 50 properties as of last week). If a citrus tree is found, residents will be given at least a day’s notice before workers return to apply pesticide on the leaves and ground near the trees. Agriculture department officials said they can, as a last resort, request a court order to enter a property and spray trees if the owners refuse to grant access.

The biggest threat posed by the psyllid is that it can carry a disease called huanglongbing, which can sap away the flavor of the fruit before eventually killing the tree. There is no way to treat the disease, which spreads from tree to tree as psyllid feeds on the plants. The disease has not been spotted in California, and citrus industry and state agriculture officials want to keep it that way.

Jay Van Rein, an agriculture department spokesman, said it will take about two weeks to complete the treatment program in Echo Park and Silver Lake. However, he said it’s likely the treatment area will most likely be expanded as more bugs have been found. Also, there is a chance a second round of spraying will be needed if psyllids are trapped in the area after the treatment is completed.

Residents who attended the meeting received information about the pests (the woman pictured above is looking at the bugs through a microscope) treatment program, pesticides and precautions. Some basic advice:

* Stay indoors while the trees are being sprayed. That goes for pets, too.

* Wait until the insecticide dries before allowing pets and kids nearby.

* The fruit can still be eaten but must be washed first.

Many resident expressed concern about the pesticides but said the spraying appeared unavoidable.

“It’s out of my hands,” said a Silver Lake resident named Sedi. “I just hope they are going to provide us with as much information as they can and as honestly as they can.”

The assurances that the spraying program was safe did not ease the concerns of Echo Park resident Lore Spangler, who came to the meeting with information about the pesticides she found on the Internet. “It’s still toxic,” said Spangler, who was worried about the safety of birds and other animals that might come in contact with the pesticides. Still, if a state crew came to her house looking for psyllids, Spangler said “I don’t know what I will do.”

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