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Monday, November 19 , 2018, 8:42 am | Partly Cloudy 51º


Goleta Residents Wary About Citrus Pest Insecticides

State officials field questions during a meeting to discuss the treatment of Asian psyllid quarantine

To spray or not to spray insecticides was the topic of discussion Monday evening, as state agriculture officials debated with Goleta residents on how to best treat a quarantine area affected by a tiny bug that can carry a deadly citrus disease.

California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) officials and concerned residents gathered for an information open house at the Goleta Valley Community Center exactly one week after all of Santa Barbara County was placed under quarantine for recent discoveries of Asian citrus psyllids.

Three of the citrus pests have been trapped in Santa Barbara, and three in Santa Maria in recent months. Another was found recently in a Goleta residential neighborhood.

In a meeting that offered no formal presentation, CDFA representatives stood next to informational posters and fielded questions about the state’s proposed treatment plan for the psyllids, which present a lethal threat to citrus trees because they can transmit a bacterial disease known as citrus greening or huanglongbing (HLB).

The disease deforms the fruit, makes it taste bitter, then kills the tree.

Beginning Thursday, the state will carry out a weeklong action plan to spray Merit, an imidacloprid insecticide, into soil in affected neighborhoods.

Some of the 500 residents living within the 400-meter treatment zone said they weren’t convinced pesticides are the best way to fight the pest that causes HLB, which has no cure and has wiped out more than $1 billion in citrus revenue in Florida since it was detected there in 2005.

Members of the Santa Barbara Beekeepers Association vocalized concern about spraying pesticides during the peak of orange bloom season.

“My bees will be affected,” said Shelly Cobb, a SBBA member who lives just outside the spray zone but referred to a bee’s three-mile pollination radius. “I believe in the balance of nature. By poisoning the bad bugs, you’re destroying the good ones. These are not targeted pesticides.”

A poster offers information about the Asian citrus psyllid, an insect pest found recently in Goleta that presents a potential risk to local citrus growers. (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)
A poster offers information about the Asian citrus psyllid, an insect pest found recently in Goleta that presents a potential risk to citrus growers. (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)

Cobb said the meeting seemed designed so state officials could “divide and conquer.”

At one point, state officials asked a California Highway Patrol officer on hand for the event to remove a man from the premises for “disturbing the peace” after he loudly tried to organize attendees into groups “for” and “against” spraying pesticides.

Santa Barbara County Ag Commissioner Cathy Fisher handled questions from a gathered group concerned with a treatment plan she said has already been used on the pests in Santa Maria.

“We know, of course, that can lead to concern,” Fisher told Noozhawk.

Rather than asking residents to spray themselves, Fisher said, ag officials are performing the treatments, and merely hoping residents inspect their trees for symptoms at least once a month to prevent further spread.

CDFA information included a look at long-term alternatives, such as finding a cure or using another pest — Tamarixia Radiata — as a “biocontrol” to significantly reduce, but not eliminate, psyllids.

Barbara Hughes, who lives smack in the middle of the affected map, said she’s concerned about how long insecticides would remain in the soil surrounding her six so-far unaffected citrus trees — estimated between six months to one year.

Organizers say flyers and 48-hour notices have and will continue going to affected residents before spraying occurs, but Hughes said she’s seen little information about it.

“I’m really upset,” said Hughes, a beekeeper and master gardener. “I think that there should be more research. There needs to be a balance. I understand that it will affect the citrus industry. I don’t think it’s being handled in the best way.”

State officials urged those who couldn’t make the meeting to contact a toll-free pest hotline at 800.491.1899.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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