During a visit last weekend to areas of eastern Washington that had been scorched by wildfires, Gov. Jay Inslee brought a personal gift: honeycrisp apples grown at the Governor’s Mansion in Olympia.
Unfortunately, the apples brought something with them as well: a pest known as apple maggots that Washington agriculture officials have worked relentlessly to keep from spreading.
A maggot outbreak could destroy orchards, shut down warehouses and ruin confidence in the state’s staple crop. Washington’s apple industry generates about $2.19 billion every year and accounts for about 70 percent of the nation’s total apple production.
When a local pest control expert discovered that there were maggots burrowed within the governor’s apples, he immediately began a desperate search for the forbidden fruit.
“It is of the utmost importance these apples are safely disposed of immediately,” the expert, Will Carpenter, the director of the Chelan-Douglas Horticultural Pest and Disease Board, wrote on Facebook.
The state takes the threat of apple maggots seriously. People are not allowed to transport apples from quarantined counties in the west of Washington — like Thurston County, which includes Olympia — to maggot-free counties in the east.
The system relies on self-education. And the governor had inadvertently brought crates of infested apples to three maggot-free counties.
“We don’t have apple-maggot-sniffing dogs that stop people at the border,” said Michael Bush, a pest specialist with the state’s Department of Agriculture. “The signs are the deterrent.”
Apple maggots spend most of their life underground, living as pupae and waiting for summer. In June, they emerge as flies and spend several weeks mating in the tree canopy. The flies then land on apples and lay their eggs. The eggs hatch into maggots, which munch their way through the fruit and leave brown, unappetizing streaks in the flesh. Finally, the maggots emerge from the apples, fall to the ground and turn into pupae — the cycle continues.
Sylvia Albertin, who operates an apple orchard in Kennewick, in a maggot-free county near the Columbia River, called it “a little surprising” that Mr. Inslee would violate the apple quarantine in the state he governed. Still, she said most people would not realize that transporting apples between counties could be a problem.
“People don’t understand what the pest is or what to look for,” she said.
Mr. Inslee apologized for the oversight during a news conference on Thursday, saying he had brought the apples “as a gesture to the people to let them know in Bridgeport and Malden that they’re not alone.”
“Obviously, we regret that mistake, and we hope people’s awareness of this situation is raised by this,” he said.
At one point during the frantic search for the apples, Mr. Carpenter and his crew thought the fruit had been handed out to victims of the fires, strewn about and nearly impossible to track down.
But on Wednesday afternoon, a relief worker found a collection of the apples in the back of a refrigerator unit where crews stored perishable goods for people affected by the wildfires.
“They called me and I was down there in a half-hour to collect them,” he said in an interview.
Mr. Carpenter said they had also recovered and destroyed a crate of apples that the governor had delivered to Malden, as well as seven apples from a nursing home in Omak.