Credit: Modification of photograph taken by Lance Cheung, USDA

Topic: Defensible space / Firewise Type: Essay

Fantastic Failure: Apple Maggots? Fire Management and Pest Management Meet

Author: Ryan Anderson, Washington State Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network

During my youth, apple maggot quarantine signs were as abundant along state highways as broken down station wagons. If someone failed to show up at camp or a ball game, some kid would often explain their absence with a nonchalant, “that’ll teach ‘em for taking an apple across the state line!”

Joking aside, quarantine efforts are an important part of Washington’s integrated pest management and protect billions of dollars in commerce.

Recently in Chelan County, Washington, the Chumstick Wildfire Stewardship Coalition (Chumstick) and the Cascadia Conservation District completed a fuels reduction project that offered “free dump days” for community members. The project was designed to incentivize the use of Chelan County’s solid waste disposal facilities as an alternative to residential burning in urban growth areas (UGAs). The Washington Department of Ecology’s (Ecology) Air Quality Program and the Washington Department of Natural Resources provided funding for the project, so not burning the material collected was an important outcome.

In Washington, outdoor burning in UGAs is not allowed. Some residents are not aware of this rule or they ignore it and burn anyway. So, on top of covering the cost of the disposal, this project utilized multiple methods of outreach to folks living in Leavenworth’s and Chelan’s UGAs.  With many other simultaneous fuel reduction efforts complimenting the yard waste disposal days, the project was a great addition to integrated fire management in Chelan County. In fact, the first weekend was so successful that Chumstick requested to add money to the agreement so that they could collect more material.

Communities like Leavenworth and Chelan, on the east slope of the Cascades, enjoy being in an exceptionally productive ecological and hydrologic transition zone. As the mixed conifer and pine forests of the eastern Cascades transition to sunny, warm foothills, orchards occupy the landscape. These orchards are some of the most productive in the world, and they are a substantial contributor to the state’s economy.

Fruit orchard during the fall

This area is home to some of the most productive orchards in the world. Credit: David Brown

Considerable work goes into protecting Washington’s orchards from pests. Pests, for instance, like the apple maggot. Drive around eastern Washington, and you will see signs proclaiming that you are either entering or leaving an “Apple Maggot Quarantine Area.” If you are entering one of these areas, the signs make it clear that no one is allowed to transport “home grown fruit” across these important boundaries. Apple maggots are one of the worms you might  find in an apple, but thanks to the quarantine and integrated pest management efforts, you rarely find such worms in a Washington apple. Now that I think about it, the apple maggot signs are about as prominent in apple country as fire danger signs are throughout fire country. So, in areas like Leavenworth, you’re just as likely to be warned of maggots as you are of fire danger.

The ban on transporting homegrown fruit into quarantine zones is well known in the region. What was not as well-known was that a few years ago, the quarantine area expanded to the base of the eastern slope of the Cascades, and the ban added residential yard waste to the list of items not to be transported across quarantine lines.

And guess what? Portions of the fuel disposal project spanned both quarantined and non-quarantined areas. And of course, the solid waste transfer station storing all of the yard waste collected was piled in a keep-those-maggots-outta-here zone. The effective outreach effort not only caught the attention of multiple urban residents, but it also caught the eye of our newest partner who happened to be reviewing the county’s solid waste plan, the Washington Department of Agriculture. They eventually informed Chelan County Solid Waste officials that they had “crossed the line” by accepting yard waste from an apple maggot “suspicion zone.” And by the way, this was a real big pile of debris. Remember, we were wildly successful with outreach.

Hilary dwarfted by a pile of coarse woody debris

Hilary Lundgren standing next to a third of the chips generated from the fuels reduction project. Credit: Hilary Lundgren, Chumstick Wildfire Stewardship Coalition

Partners promptly spewed out potential solutions to mitigate the apple maggot quarantine oversite. Burning the pile, of course, would violate Ecology’s primary motivation for funding the project (you know, the part where we bragged about not burning the material). So, a pretty successful endeavor was on thin ice for a few days while solutions were worked out. Thanks to great project management skills and good will from project partners, a successful, maggot-free alternative was carried out.

Hilary Lundgren (formerly with the Chumstick, now with the Washington State Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network) did an excellent job coaxing partners away from various “ledges” and into chipping the material and transporting it back into the apple maggot quarantine area. Additionally, Hilary and Patrick Haggerty (of Cascadia Conservation District) found outlets for the chips inside the appropriate zone, including equestrian trails managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Road sign reading, "Apple Maggot Quarantine area; brush and yard waste not accepted. Quarantine area includes Western Chelan County."

New apple maggot quarantine sign. Credit: Hilary Lundgren, Chumstick Wildfire Stewardship Coalition

Project partners all followed good habits which helped steer the project back on course. Whether the news was good or bad, quick communication from partners at each step made it easy for decision makers to move forward with successful, if not monumental, solutions. Also, partners were willing to make small changes, like chipping and hauling the material west for disposal. Chelan County Public Works, the City of Leavenworth, Chumstick, Cascadia Conservation District, Ecology and the U.S. Department of Agriculture all found ways to keep the project on track, without taking over the project and without compromising their missions. In truth, they all played a role in making this project a win instead of a loss. And in the end, we all learned that integrated fire management and integrated pest management go hand in hand.

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3 thoughts on “Fantastic Failure: Apple Maggots? Fire Management and Pest Management Meet”

  1. Dan Holman says:

    Interesting article. Something few people know.

  2. Wesley Keller says:

    Very timely for me and great tie in. I’m currently building my second high tunnel as part of my new market garden operation Clean Slate Farm LLC.
    Anytime you can tie other interests to a fire mitigation project it becomes a win, win for everyone.
    More great work from the folks from Washington!

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