Letters to the Editor

Viewpoint: Help needed to keep pests out of SLO County

Few places provide such ideal conditions for raising a wide variety of crops, livestock and ornamental plants as San Luis Obispo County.

However, these same conditions also create the perfect place for exotic, detrimental insect pests and plant diseases. These pests and diseases could be the biggest challenge yet for commercial agricultural producers and anyone growing a garden, a landscape or even a single citrus tree.

Now more than ever, the help of all residents of San Luis Obispo County is needed to keep pests at bay and help find them before they can negatively impact our $736 million local agricultural industry, ornamental landscapes and the natural beauty that makes this county so desirable.

The recent discovery of a single tree infected with citrus greening disease in a Los Angeles County backyard illustrates the need for prevention and elimination of exotic plant pests and diseases. This disease, which is fatal to all types of citrus trees, threatens the beloved trees in countless landscapes across the county as well as posing potential devastation to the $9 million local citrus industry.

Over the past 10 years, nearly 50 percent of the commercial citrus groves in Florida have been killed by this disease. The University of Florida estimates the disease has tallied more than 6,600 lost jobs, $1.3 billion in lost revenue to growers and $3.6 billion in lost economic activity for the state.

The Asian citrus psyllid, the insect that is responsible for spreading this dreaded disease from tree to tree has been found in nearby Ventura County.

Staff from the county Agricultural Commissioner’s Office search for these types of pests by monitoring more than 4,000 insect traps placed in urban neighborhoods and crop lands. More than 400 of these insect traps are dedicated to monitor for the presence of the Asian citrus psyllid.

Sudden oak death, a fatal disease of native oaks, is well established from Humboldt to Monterey counties. If this disease is introduced, primarily through the movement of infected firewood or plants, the natural landscape of San Luis Obispo County would be permanently altered.

The list of exotic insects and plant diseases is long and, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, these unwanted pests take a $3 billion bite out of the state’s $37.5 billion agricultural industry.

However, pests are not the only threat. Non-native plants also have negative impacts on agricultural production, water bodies and the environment, resulting in high control costs and loss of property value.

The impact of these misplaced species is great and includes restrictive quarantines, export restrictions, higher production costs, increased pesticide use and, ultimately, higher prices for food and plants.

It is difficult to close off all potential pest pathways into the county. An engaged community of all county residents is critical in successfully excluding pests. Community members can do the following to protect their property, the natural environment and our local agricultural production:

Buy local! Purchase plants from reputable local sources selling plants that have been routinely inspected by the agricultural commissioner’s staff.

Do not transport or mail fresh fruits, vegetables, plants or plant parts into the county unless they have been first inspected by an agricultural official, paying particular attention to citrus trees or plant parts from Southern California. Call 781-5910 for inspections.

Wash vehicles, boats, outdoor equipment and camping gear between recreational trips to destinations outside San Luis Obispo County to avoid transporting hitchhiking pests.

Buy firewood near where you will burn it to avoid importing diseases and insects or seeds that may be hiding in the bark.

Check residential landscaping often for signs of unusual symptoms or strange insects. Contact the local University of California Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener Program at 781-5939 for help in identification of unusual plant symptoms or pests.

Allow the agricultural commissioner’s staff to place an insect trap in your yard if you are asked to do so.

As residents of San Luis Obispo County, we have the opportunity to help protect this beautiful place we call home. Staying aware, taking simple precautionary actions and spreading the word about invasive and detrimental pests will go a long way in preventing harm.

For more information, visit the California Department of Food and Agriculture website at www.cdfa.ca.gov or the San Luis Obispo County Agricultural Commissioner/Sealer’s Office’s website at www.slocounty.ca.gov/agcomm/Pest_Prevention.htm.

Martin Settevendemie, San Luis Obispo County’s agricultural commissioner/sealer, is the local official responsible for implementing pest detection, exclusion, control and eradication programs under the authority of the California Department of Food and Agriculture.