FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) --The fight to protect California's $2 billion citrus industry has now been taken into backyards.
A devastating citrus disease has homeowners on guard because 30 citrus trees in southern California - in the San Gabriel area - have been infected with Huanglongbing, a bacterial disease which kills trees.
A free program is now available to homeowners who want to get rid of any abandoned trees. One by one, 33 trees are being cut down at Richard Van Slype's home in Exeter. He bought the property two years ago and hoped to bring the dying trees back to life.
"When they started sprouting new shoots, man, I was happy big time," Van Slype exclaimed. "But it was the wrong thing to be happy about I guess."
The trees didn't fully recover so they had to be taken down to protect against a disease which is threatening the citrus industry.
"This property, in particular, is surrounded by commercial orchards and it could have been a harbor for the Asian citrus psyllid," Alyssa Houtby with the California Citrus Mutual explained. "The trees were dying but there was enough new growth on them to attract the psyllid."
The tiny psyllid has been found in Fresno, Tulare and Kern counties but the Huanglongbing disease has not been established here. California Citrus Mutual has a new program which allows homeowners to cut down neglected trees for free. The Abandoned Citrus Tree Removal Program is also funded by Bayer Science.
"If it weren't for the program we'd be in trouble big time," Van Slype said. "I know I'd be taking them down one at a time."
The program helps property owners save money.
"We're hoping to help a homeowner out and remove the trees and at the same time protect our industry," Houtby said.
Once his acre-and-a-half parcel is cleared, Van Slype plans to plant fruit trees.
"That's why we brought the place because it was surrounded by trees like a mini Mooney's Grove, you know," Van Slype said.
If you have citrus trees which need to be removed or know of an abandoned orchard. You can contact California Citrus Mutual in Exeter at (559) 592-3790.