Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

So Far, State Is Losing Public Relations Battle in Citrus-Canker War as Trees Come Down, Residents' Anger Rises

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

So Far, State Is Losing Public Relations Battle in Citrus-Canker War as Trees Come Down, Residents' Anger Rises

Article excerpt

MIAMI -- Twenty-five years ago, Margaret Sayles watched her husband, John pluck a mystery sapling from the front yard and transplant it to the south side of the family's Lauderdale Lakes home.

Last week, Joseph, the 35-year-old son who lives with her, stood just outside the mature tree's fruit-laden canopy, watching a man with a chain saw obliterate an heirloom.

"It came up wild, and we had no idea what it was, except we recognized the thorn in the leaf as citrus," said Margaret Sayles, an office worker for the Girl Scouts of Broward County. "It turned out to be a seedless pink grapefruit, with the sweetest taste you can imagine."

In the 3900 block of Northwest 35th Terrace, South Floridians lost another battle in the citrus-canker war -- or won it, depending on your perspective.

A burgeoning army of contract cutters, most from the Asplundh Tree Expert Co., is fighting that war. Accompanied by state Agriculture Department supervisors, the cutters enter neighborhoods like this, filling the air with the chain saw's shriek and the wood chipper's grind.

Since this war is as much about public relations as science, the crews are encountering misinformed, suspicious and angry citizens. Police are on standby wherever the crews go, just in case.

"Stay away from my trees," nurse Dawna Beckford warned state canker eradication program spokesman Mark Fagan. He is based in Plantation and sometimes accompanies field crews.

Beckford stopped Fagan near her home in the 3500 block of Northwest 42nd Street. She demanded to know why inspectors said her trees were fine two months ago, then said they had been exposed and would be cut.

"They found a tree somewhere near you that tested positive," Fagan explained. "All the trees in a 1,900-foot radius are exposed and will show signs of lesions. By that time, they start infecting trees in another 1,900 feet."

The state of Florida might win the canker war, if the objective is to spare the vast commercial groves and backyard trees up north. …

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