Poultry and exotic birds have been banned from fairgrounds in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties for the rest of 2003 in an effort to stop the spread of Exotic Newcastle Disease.

That means chickens, turkeys and other birds can't be shown or sold at the Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee in May or Tuolumne County's Mother Lode Fair in July.

Gov. Gray Davis has declared a state of emergency in the fight against Exotic Newcastle Disease in California.

The Division of Fairs and Expositions, which oversees county fairs, has recommended all fairs suspend poultry shows and bird exhibits for the 2003 fair season.

Birds will also be banned from the Gold Country Avicultural Society's Exotic Pet Expo at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds in September unless the ban is lifted by then.

About 30 4-H members take part in the Tuolumne County poultry project, which usually culminates in the small livestock auction at the fair, project leader Roger Tidball said.

"It will hurt them not to be able to show their birds at the fair," he said, "but they understand this disease is something that needs to be stopped. It's a learning experience for them."

High School students who belong to Future Farmers of America also show birds at the fair. However, most of them have other animal projects as well, Tidball said, so they aren't as seriously affected.

Sue Moore, 4-H project coordinator for Tuolumne County, said it's fortunate the decision came before 4-H and FFA members bought turkey poults (baby turkeys) to raise for the fair.

They raise turkeys for six months to sell at the auction, she said.

Exotic Newcastle Disease is a contagious, fatal virus affecting all species of birds. But it does not affect people, even if they eat infected birds or eggs.

New cases continue to be found in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties.

Exotic Newcastle Disease is one of the world's most infectious poultry diseases so virulent that many birds die before they even show symptoms.