OLYMPIA – When Gov. Jay Inslee traveled to Eastern and Central Washington to bring the state’s prayers, concern and comfort to victims of fire-ravaged communities last week, he also brought something else: Apple maggot larvae.
By bringing crates of apples from trees growing at the governor’s mansion, Inslee was violating state regulations about bringing homegrown fruit from an apple-maggot quarantine area – which includes Thurston County and many other west-side counties – into pest-free counties.
To control apple maggots, Washington is divided into quarantine zones, with large signs along the highways warning people not to transport homegrown fruit into pest-free areas. Spokane County and part of Lincoln County are quarantined, but most of the rest of Eastern and Central Washington, home to the nation’s largest apple-production areas, are pest-free.
“It was a nice gesture, but not well-thought-through,” said Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake. “As the state’s executive, he should have followed the law to keep our state’s agriculture safe instead of putting it at risk. I think the stiffest penalties are in order.”
Whitman County, where fire-ravaged Malden and Pine City are located, is a pest-free area. So are Douglas and Chelan counties, where Inslee traveled Saturday.
On both trips, Inslee brought residents apples from trees outside the mansion. A check of some apples brought to a nursing home in Omak showed they have apple maggot larvae, said Will Carpenter, Chelan-Douglas Horticultural Pest and Disease Board director. Those apples were thrown out.
Carpenter said he was alerted earlier this week when photos of the apples Inslee brought to Bridgeport began circulating on social media with questions about whether they were infested and whether they should have been brought from Thurston County.
Now local officials are trying to round up other apples Inslee brought that may have been distributed at a food giveaway in Bridgeport over the weekend, he said.
Inslee also brought a crate of apples to Malden Thursday. Washington State Department of Agriculture officials are trying to collect the apples the governor brought to the fire zones.
That’s an unusual step, said Hector Castro, communications director for the department. Usually it would tell people who had the apples to throw them in covered trash.
“The governor is a state official, and here’s a case of a state official who made a faux pas,” Castro said.
Fruit that has apple maggot larvae may have dimples on the outside; when cut open, there will be brown areas and pin holes, Carpenter said.
The larvae eventually grow into small white pupae that stay in the ground over winter and turn into a fly around June. A female fly can lay hundreds of eggs to start the cycle over again.
The state also restricts the movement of compost and some municipal waste between those areas to control apple maggots.
Bringing home-grown apples into a pest-free zone is a misdemeanor, but the state rarely cites anyone, Castro said.
“Our practice has always been to educate the person and advise them that there’s a quarantine in effect,” he said.
That’s what they’ve done to the governor’s office, Castro said: “They are well aware now that there’s a quarantine.”
Inslee’s office issued a statement from the governor in which he said he and his wife Trudi picked the apples and he brought them along as a way “to express comfort for the communities suffering from devastating fires.”
He and his office told the department Inslee brought a bag of seven apples to an old family friend at the nursing home in Omak. He delivered a tray of apples to a church in Bridgeport, gave four apples to some utility workers he talked with and another four to the mayor there. He gave the Malden mayor a box of apples, but it’s not clear how many it contained.
“We regret this mistake. This is a good reminder of the importance of awareness around apple quarantine,” Inslee said in the news release. “We appreciate the Washington State Department of Agriculture’s efforts to help recover these apples and we are assisting to help make that happen.”