Los Angeles Times credits Fresno dog for saving citrus industry

Aug 18, 2009
On his Twitter feed, Los Angeles Times reporter Jerry Hirsch suggested his followers "learn how a Labrador retriever saved California's orange industry from disaster."

While the story's heroine, a plant-sniffing dog named Chelsea, didn't appear in the article until the 17th paragraph, UC Riverside citrus entomologist Beth Grafton-Cardwell was the first expert quoted, way up in the third paragraph.

Grafton-Cardwell told the reporter that a disease carried by the Asian citrus psyllid - an insect already established in northern Mexico - is "a citrus grower's worst nightmare."

Citrus greening disease was established in Florida in 2005 and quickly spread to every citrus-growing county in the state, killing about five percent of trees every year, the Times article said. It has wiped out much of the citrus industries in China, India, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and has ravaged parts of Brazil.

The alert dog pointed officials to a duffel bag at a Fresno FedEx facility. The bag contained curry leaves from India, which turned out to be carrying Asian citrus psyllids infected with the dreaded disease. The bag was separated from a traveller that was visiting family in North Fresno.

Fresno County ag officials placed 100 monitoring traps around the home where the bag was destined, and so far no Asian citrus psyllids have been detected, according to a Fresno Bee story published today.

Scientists are trying to develop citrus trees with resistance to citrus greening disease, but Grafton-Cardwell told Hirsch that such a tree was still probably years off. In the meantime, California officials are focused on setting traps and eradicating psyllid populations.

"We need to buy time for the scientists," Grafton-Cardwell was quoted.