Ag inspector seeks info on maggot-infested apples linked to Inslee

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Apple collected in Omak showing signs of apple maggot infestation. Chelan and Douglas counties' horticultural pest inspector is investigating whether the infected apples were brought to area by Gov. Jay Inslee, and how many were distributed.

WATERVILLE — The chief agriculture inspector for Chelan and Douglas counties is investigating a supply of apples, brought to central Washington by Gov. Jay Inslee, found to contain apple maggot infestation.

Will Carpenter, director of the Chelan-Douglas Horticultural Pest and Disease Board, asked the public today for help tracking down apples Inslee brought from Thurston County on a Saturday goodwill visit to Bridgeport and other points damaged by wildfire around NCW.

The Washington apple maggot quarantine zone includes Thurston County, where the state capital Olympia is located. Transport of fruit harvested within that zone into a non-quarantine area violates state Department of Agriculture rules.

In a press statement Thursday afternoon, Inslee said, “Last week Trudi and I wanted to express comfort for the communities suffering from devastating fires. When I visited some of these areas, I took some apples we picked from our tree in Olympia. We regret this mistake. This is a good reminder of the importance of awareness around apple quarantine.”

The Washington State Department of Agriculture is working to recover the apples, Inclsee said, “and we are assisting to help make that happen.”

Carpenter said today he tracked down some apples believed to have been brought by Inslee to Omak, and they were riddled with apple maggot larvae. He included photos in a press release asking the public’s help locating all the infected fruit.

Residents in Bridgeport told radio station KUOW and other media outlets that Inslee brought the fruit to share, despite state agriculture rules that forbid transport of fruit from the apple maggot quarantine zone. That zone is marked out by ag regulators to prevent the spread of a parasite that can easily devastate whole tree-fruit crops, and it includes practically all of western Washington and parts of NCW.

Gov. Jay Inslee visiting Bridgeport Saturday, Sept. 12. (via Gov. Inslee’s Facebook page)

Carpenter says Bridgeport residents contacted him about the apple distribution after Inslee’s weekend visit, and spent Monday and Tuesday tracking reports that the apples were infested. He learned Inslee had made a visit to an Omak nursing home, and he learned that resident had apples in their possession.

“I picked those up last night, late afternoon, and inspected them, and was able to find apple maggot larvae inside of those apples,” Carpenter said. “I haven’t cut all of them open — there were seven apples — but immediately off of the first one, I had apple maggot inside of the fruit. It gave some telltale signs on the outside — dimples similar to what’s called bitter-pit. Some of the other apples showed those same outside symptoms.”

Carpenter says that makes it crucial to track down any other apples that might have arrived in the same shipment, before larvae hatch and take hold in Chelan and Douglas County orchards.

The governor also brought apples to a community visit in the fire-devastated town of Malden on Sept. 10.

Inslee has been known to give away apples to charity from his family’s thatch of trees on Bainbridge Island.

Carpenter said he’s reached out to Inslee’s office, and had not received confirmation as of Thursday morning that Inslee brought the fruit, nor where it was grown.

The rules on apple transport are administrative and the state Department of Agriculture does not pursue criminal penalties, although violations can carry up to $5,000 in fines. But Carpenter says the rules must be observed to maintain the state’s orchard health.

Otherwise, he said, “You’re potentially putting that industry at risk, and closing some of those export markets.”

The apples brought to Bridgeport Sept. 12 were last noticed at the Foursquare Church shortly after 11 a.m. Carpenter’s press release says they may have been dumped in a local orchard or transported with other, non-contaminated apples from the area.

Anyone with information about maggot-infested apples in the Chelan or Douglas County region — brought by Inslee or otherwise — should contact Carpenter at (509) 667-6677 or Will.Carpenter@co.chelan.wa.us.