Affects how residents dispose of food waste
Wilted lettuce, carrot tops, melon rinds, apple cores — don’t toss them in trash can after Nov. 9, when an apple maggot quarantine will be imposed in the Methow Valley north of Gold Creek.
The state-imposed quarantine will impact the way Methow Valley households and businesses dispose of food waste for the foreseeable future, under rules designed to slow the spread of apple maggots and protect the region’s commercial apple crop.
The quarantine prohibits anyone from moving “green waste” — biodegradable waste — from the quarantine area into or through a pest-free (non-quarantine) area. Because waste from the Methow Valley ends up in the Okanogan County landfill, which is outside the new quarantine area, the new rules create some complications.
The state-imposed quarantine will affect both household waste and municipal “green waste,” which includes fruits and vegetables — whether homegrown or store-bought. It also includes yard debris like grass clippings, soil and leaves, and woody debris, such as branches and twigs, according to the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA).
As a result, any kind of fruits, vegetables or yard waste cannot be put into garbage cans along with other household waste. So, residents who are used to throwing fruits and vegetables into their trash will have to change their habits. “It needs to be composted at home or separated” into a separate container, said Jim Marra, pest program manager for WSDA.
“We recognize this is going to be an adjustment for residents in the community. The goal is to protect the apple industry,” said Hector Castro, communications director for WSDA.
The quarantine, which has been under consideration for several months, will also mean an adjustment for WasteWise Methow, the valley’s garbage collection company.
Shift in thinking
“The impact of having the quarantine cuts us off from our landfill. And I have down-valley customers in the pest-free area (south of Gold Creek). We’ll have to make a miniature route in the pest-free area,” where customers don’t have to comply with the green waste restrictions, said Casey Bouchard, WasteWise general manager.
He said residents in the quarantine area will need to view waste from organic matter in the same way they think of paint or florescent tubes, which can’t be mixed with other garbage. “Basically, that concept will be applied to fruit and yard waste. They will be considered exclusions and people cannot put them into garbage cans. It’s going to take a shift in thinking for our customers,” Bouchard said.
Okanogan County public works officials are considering establishing a separate area at the Twisp transfer station where people can bring in green waste, Bouchard said.
He is concerned that the requirements that green waste be segregated may have a negative economic impact for his business, prompting some customers to decide to end their garbage pickup.
Bouchard said he has been talking with WSDA officials about the possible quarantine for several months and has asked for a specific list of items that cannot go into the WasteWise garbage cans, but has not received one.
An Oct. 11 news release from WSDA about the apple maggot quarantine specified “homegrown or foraged fruit” as being restricted from moving from a quarantined area into or through a pest-free area, but Marra confirmed Tuesday that the category of excluded items will be considerably broader.
“It becomes really complicated when you try to parse out different types of organic waste. All types of fruits and vegetables, homegrown and store bought, have to be kept out of the trash,” he said.
“Other fruits can also be hosts to apple maggot, not just apples,” Castro explained. “These include cherries, pears, plums and other fruits, but also other plants and soil. That’s why the quarantine restricts the movement of fruits, vegetables and plant material.”
Getting info out
Castro said WSDA is working with Okanogan County officials to help get information about the quarantine to the public. WSDA is preparing to send a postcard to all impacted residents, and posters will be put up in locations where people take trash.
Local orchard owners will also be impacted by requirements that they certify that their crops are free of apple maggots before they can sell the fruit on the wholesale market or transport it outside the quarantine area, including through Pateros and Wenatchee. Taking the fruit to the Seattle area over the North Cascades is not an issue, because virtually all of Western Washington is also under quarantine. But in winter the fruit would have to be transported through Wenatchee, which would affect some fruit growers who sell in Seattle.
When an apple maggot quarantine is imposed, it is almost never lifted, Marra said. “Once a population becomes established, it’s almost impossible to eradicate it,” he said.
The area under quarantine extends from Gold Creek to the Canadian border and east to the Loup Loup summit. The quarantine was recommended by a WSDA working group earlier this year after the discovery of dozens of adult flies and larvae in the Methow Valley.
The action is considered necessary to protect commercial growers in the region, which is a big player in Washington state’s $2.4 billion apple industry. Apples are the state’s leading crop and Washington produces 70 percent of the nation’s apples, according to WSDA.
“Fortunately, there are not many commercial apple growers in the quarantine area, but there sure are a lot of commercial growers outside it,” Marra said.
Apple maggot flies lay eggs beneath the skin of apples or berries of hawthorn trees, which are a host for the pest. After they hatch, the larvae eat the fruit and then drop to the ground to pupate. Pupa overwinter in soil and hatch as adult flies in spring or early summer.
Apple maggot flies have been found in the Methow Valley for several years, but in recent years the number of adult flies has grown, with dozens caught in traps by WSDA. Infestation threatens domestic and overseas apple markets and fruit crops like cherries, pears, plums as well as crabapples and hawthorn. The pest has never been detected in commercially packed Washington fruit.