British Columbia

Huge Vancouver Island plant nursery under quarantine after harmful pathogen found

After the Canadian Food Inspection Agency tested Island View Nursery north of Victoria for a disease-carrying pathogen, the results came back positive. Now, a site-wide quarantine has been placed on the property, and 100,000 plants could be destroyed.

Quarantine could last at least 2 weeks and up to 100,000 plants could be destroyed

Alexandria Garcia says the wholesale nursery her family operates has now been placed under quarantine after a harmful pathogen was found on one of the plants. (Sterling Eyford/CBC)

Walking through her family's 32-hectare wholesale nursery, Alexandria Garcia says in a few months time, nearly 100,000 plants could be eradicated.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency tested Island View Nursery in Saanichton, north of Victoria, for a disease-carrying pathogen called Phytophthora ramorum earlier this month. The results showed spores on one of the plants.

Now, according to the agency's protocol, a site-wide quarantine has been placed on the property for two weeks, which could then be extended to 90 days if the spores are still present.

After that, all plants could be burned based on proximity to the infected plants.

As a result, most of the plants would have to be destroyed, said Garcia, whose family has owned the nursery since 2004.

'We're feeling lost'

"We're feeling lost," she said. "To see everything destroyed, healthy or not ... you just feel confused." 

The CFIA's website says Phytophthora ramorum causes a disease known as leafdrop on a multitude of nursery plants. Moderate temperatures, cool climate, and a multitude of tree and plant species that are common hosts for the pathogen make B.C.'s South Coast the area with the highest risk of infection in Canada.

P. ramorum is on a list of pests regulated by federal law because of its wide host range and potentially harmful effects.

Island View Nursery, in Saanichton, B.C., spans 32 hectares, and houses around 100,000 plants. (Sterling Eyford/CBC)

"It can make plants lose their foliage and not look very good," said Garcia. Because the disease is airborne and infects plants via water, fog, soil and animal transfer, she said she has no way to control whether her plants become infected. 

Under quarantine, none of the plants can be removed, and customers would have to wear a protective suit to enter the site. "We've made the call just to close the nursery … to not subject our customers to that," said Garcia. 

Extreme financial losses

She added that the random inspection process undertaken by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency could have a negative impact on area nurseries.

"Other local nurseries have been impacted by this," she said. "There's no compensation being granted, there's no insurance that exists. Businesses will not be able to rebuild."

The CBC contacted the federal food inspection agency, but it did not respond by deadline.

Garcia said it's unfair that nurseries are randomly selected for inspection. The Island View Nursery hasn't had a government inspection for a decade, and now the prospect of the family nursery's plants being destroyed could harm the business in the long run.

"If this is a really extreme pathogen … I don't know why they aren't testing us regularly," she said.

If plants are ordered destroyed, Garcia said the nursery's roughly 2,000 customers would be affected too because there aren't many other wholesale nurseries in the area.

However, she said that she and other nursery owners have banded together to contact the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. They want more consistent, frequent testing, and they want the CFIA's burn protocols to be less severe.

"Now is the waiting game … only the future can tell," she said.

With files from Sterling Eyford

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