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Argiculture comes under fire (and ice) (oh, and hurricanes)

WASHINGTON -- This fiscal year, the U.S. Forest Service in Southern California needs $46.4 million to clear dangerous brush and dead trees that act as fuel for fires like this season's Thurman and Topanga wildfires. Instead, it will be getting $7.5 million.

The nearly $40 million shortfall has drawn the attention of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who is calling on the Forest Service to increase funding for Los Padres, San Bernardino, Angeles and Cleveland national forests.

"The sheer numbers of people at risk from catastrophic fire in Southern California are unparalleled anywhere else in the country," Ms. Feinstein wrote in a letter to Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey, who is responsible for natural resources.

Nearly 7 million people live in areas defined as "at risk" in Southern California.

- Read more from the Santa Barbara News-Press -

BURLINGTON, Vt. -- The late October storm that brought more than a foot of snow to parts of Vermont brought big problems for some maple sugar farmers, damaging thousand of trees and uncounted lengths of syrup tubing.

"This is going to dwarf the ice storm of '98," said Jacques Couture, president of the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association. "This is much more widespread."

The storm was particularly destructive to trees at higher elevations, including meticulously cared-for stands of sugar maples.

- Read more from WCAX-TV in Burlington, VT -

Of course, Vermont is not alone in agricultural pain. Florida's citrus crop has taken a beating lately.

LAKELAND, Fla. - When Jason Johnson graduates college next month with a degree in citrus production, chances are he will look for jobs in landscaping rather than the state's $9 billion citrus industry. It makes better economic sense.

"My roommate and I said we're going to stop farming orange groves and start farming houses," said Johnson, 26, a student at Florida Southern College in Lakeland. "I love the citrus industry. It's part of me. But at the same time ... you see urbanization coming in. You see the houses coming in, and what do you do? You put plants around them."

Urbanization, hurricanes and diseases are transforming the industry that produces Florida's signature crops, leaving behind a less promising future for the next generation of growers, production managers and citrus marketers. No one predicts its end, but the outlook has gotten more dismal in the past two years for the state's citrus industry, which in recent years has abdicated the title of being Florida's largest crop to horticulture.

Hurricane Wilma last month took out an estimated 17 percent of this season's crop, a year after three hurricanes reduced the state's citrus production by 42 percent from the previous season. More troubling, the hurricanes spread citrus canker, a dreaded bacterial disease that doesn't harm humans but can cause trees to lose fruit and leaves. An even deadlier citrus disease, greening, surfaced this year in citrus-producing areas of the state already facing development pressures from the northward migration of residents out of heavily populated South Florida.

"I don't know if what we're seeing is the worst we've ever seen. Certainly the freezes of the 1980s were bad," grower Ellis Hunt Jr. of Hunt Bros. "It has been a little bleak."

- Read more from ABC News -

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