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California forms group to step up effort to halt invasive species

FRESNO, Calif. — State officials said Tuesday they’re stepping up efforts to banish invasive species, including Quagga mussels that clog cooling pipe systems on the Colorado River and Asian citrus psyllids that threaten Southern California orange trees.

“One of the greatest challenges to human health, to our environment and to our food supply comes from invasive species,” said A.G. Kawamura, secretary of the state Department of Food and Agriculture. “As our borders open up to more international trade, we have to be on top alert.”

At the World Ag Expo in Tulare, Kawamura announced the formation of the Invasive Species Council, which includes secretaries of state agencies that previously had dealt with the environmental problem within their own bureaucracies. Kawamura will lead the effort.

Nonnative bugs and plants cause at least $138 billion in losses nationwide each year to agriculture, power and water delivery systems and forests, according to a 1999 Cornell University study cited by state officials as the most recent available figure.

The council aims to streamline duplicated efforts. For instance, the Department of Food and Agriculture, which inspects border crossings for pests on fruits and vegetables, also could check boats for Quaggas, a task currently performed by the California Department of Fish & Game.

Officials are most worried about the potential economic impact that would occur if the psyllid and Quagga are carried to other parts of the state.

The psyllid can transmit the citrus greening disease, which has killed tens of thousands of acres of trees in Florida and Brazil. San Joaquin Valley growers, the largest players in the state’s $1.1 billion citrus industry, have been bracing for the pest to cross the Tehachapi Mountains from San Diego and Imperial counties.

The Zebra mussel, a relative of the Quagga that plagues the Great Lakes, cost the power industry $3.1 billion to fight in the 1990s, state officials say. Now the Ukranian Quagga — already is established in lakes Mead and Havasu, where they damage hardware in Hoover Dam’s hydroelectric operations — has migrated to the Colorado River Aqueduct.

The council will collaborate with scientists, environmental groups, landowners and industries harmed by invasive species. The goal is a “rapid response plan” to focus attention from all the agencies on the most urgent species poised to cause the greatest economic, public health or environmental hardship.

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