(UPDATED COVERAGE, Aug. 20) FRESNO, Calif. – As a token of its appreciation, members of the California citrus industry presented a basket of treats and chew toys to Chelsea, the dog that discovered a package containing curry leaves and Asian citrus psyllids.

Kevin Severns, a board member of California Citrus Mutual, Exeter, and general manager of the Orange Cove-Sanger Citrus Association, Orange Cove, presented the basket to Chelsea during a ceremony at the office of the Fresno County Agricultural Commissioner.

UPDATED: California citrus industry honors canine sleuth

Don Schrack

Kevin Severns, a board member of California Citrus Mutual, Exeter, and general manager of the Orange Cove-Sanger Citrus Association, Orange Cove, presents a gift basket to Chelsea, the canine detective who discovered a package containing curry leaves infested with Asian citrus psyllids, some of which tested positive for huanglongbing, or HLB, a fatal bacterial disease that infects citrus trees. Behind is Stephanie LeBarron, agricultural/standards specialist for the Fresno County Agricultural Commissioner’s office, and Chelsea’s handler.

“We dodged a bullet, thanks to Chelsea,” Severns said. “Her work and other specially trained dogs give the California citrus industry reason to be optimistic, but we must stay vigilant.”

In the package targeted by Chelsea, inspectors found one dead adult psyllid and nine psyllid nymphs, some of which were carriers of huanglongbing, or HLB, a bacterial disease that could wipe out the California citrus industry, said Carol Hafner, Fresno County Agricultural Commissioner.

Subsequent to the discovery, traps were installed Aug. 12 in the neighborhood of the intended recipient’s home. As of Aug. 19, no psyllids had been found in the traps, Hafner said.

“HLB is a death sentence for a tree; there is no cure,” Severns said. “If Asian citrus psyllids infest California, it will be the death sentence for the entire citrus industry.”

Successful methods, such as using male attractants mixed with a pesticide, used to eradicate other insects do not work for the Asian citrus psyllid, Hafner said, because the psyllids are asexual. They do not require males and females for reproduction, she said.

The disease has destroyed thousands of acres of citrus groves in Florida and has been found as far west in the U.S. as Louisiana. It also is in Cuba, Belize and on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula.

“It’s not if, but when HLB gets to California,” Severns said. “We just hope we can hold it off long enough for researchers to come up with a cure.”

Chelsea is handled by Stephanie LeBarron, an agricultural/standards specialist with the commissioner’s office. She and Chelsea, a 2-year-old yellow Labrador retriever, went through 10-weeks of U.S. Department of Agriculture training in Florida last year.

“She is trained to find anything that contains chlorophyll,” LeBarron said of Chelsea.