Washington State county pest boards have authority to deal with unmanaged growth in former orchard sites, like this one at left, that can be a refuge for codling moth and apple maggot.
County horticultural pest and disease boards in Washington State are the front line of defense against invasive pest species, yet there is great disparity between the activities and funding levels of the different counties.
County horticultural (pest) boards should be thought of as a key part of pest management, said Dr. Mike Willett, vice president of scientific affairs for the Northwest Horticultural Council. They not only help control pests like codling moth (a quarantine pest of Taiwan), but since the discovery of apple maggot within apple-producing counties in the state, the importance of well-functioning pest boards is more vital than ever, he said.
"Apple maggot is a huge trade issue," Willett said, adding that quarantines can seriously impact the fruit industry’s ability to move product around. "Countries in the Southern Hemisphere talk all the time about imposing quarantines from Washington State fruit because of the apple maggot. They all know about fruit flies, and apple maggot is a fruit fly."
County pest boards provide the infrastructure for the state agricultural department to conduct annual trapping surveys and inspections for invasive and quarantine pests like apple maggot, he explained.
Mike Klaus, entomologist for the Washington State Department of Agriculture and head of WSDA’s apple maggot project, agrees that pest boards are important when dealing with pest issues related to trade and export. He said that his apple maggot team depends on county pest boards for trapping and detection.
"If we didn’t have pest boards, it would be difficult for us to take the quick follow-up steps [spraying and tree removal] that are needed when apple maggot is detected," he said.
Because of the local nature of county pest boards, there is a wide range in services provided in key fruit-producing counties in the state.
"If a farmer has tree fruit orchards across three different counties, he or she will get different or no response for complaints filed with the county pest boards," said Karen Lewis, Washington State University Extension educator for Grant-Adams County.
Some counties have well-funded pest boards, receiving funding from a mix of per-acre and parcel assessments, parcel-only assessments, or county general funds, while others have scant funds or are not funded at all. The range of funding for pest boards in eastern Washington varies from $3,500 to $110,000. Donations from fruit warehouses are used in one county to help fund summer inspectors.
Some counties have strong, proactive outreach and incentive programs to educate owners of backyard problem trees and provide reimbursement for trees that are removed, while others respond only to complaints about lack of pest control that have been filed. One county funds a part-time inspector to look specifically for cherry leafroll virus in commercial orchards.
Tree fruit industry representatives and managers of county pest boards from eastern Washington’s Okanogan to Walla Walla Counties met recently to discuss their programs, funding sources, and challenges. The Washington State Horticultural Association hosted the forum in an attempt to improve the overall continuity of the county programs.
"Our role is to make sure that all counties have functioning, well funded pest boards, and that the state has the resources and staff available to assist and support the boards," said Jim Hazen, executive director of the Hort Association.
As the industry moves away from organophosphate pesticides, pest boards will play an active part in the transition, Hazen believes.
Without broad-spectrum materials like Guthion (azinphos-methyl), pest management strategies will rely more on pheromones and other alternatives, said Dr. Jay Brunner, WSU entomologist. Successful management of key pests will hinge on regional cooperation that includes reducing or eliminating external sources of high pest pressure, he said.
The authority to establish county pest boards stems from legislation enacted in 1961 and 1969. Their purpose is to help counties more effectively control and prevent the spread of horticultural pests and diseases. Boards are comprised of five voting members, four appointed by the board of county commissioners and one appointed by the director of the Washington State Department of Agriculture. Additionally, county extension educators are a nonvoting member.
County boards have been given broad powers and duties to carry out their mission: receive complaints regarding infection of a pest or disease on any parcel of land within the county; inspect land parcels to determine the presence of pests and diseases; order any landowner to control and prevent the spread of pests and diseases; and, control and prevent the spread of pests and diseases on any property within the county and charge the owner for the expense.
The boards play a critical role when orchards are abandoned. While abandoned orchards are not as prevalent as they were a decade ago, county boards still deal with them. Close relationships with county prosecuting attorneys have enabled counties to receive their orchard removal costs from bankruptcy proceedings. Some counties have tapped into state funds that were set up proactively for abandoned orchards.
In the last decade, urban encroachment and the building of subdivisions near orchards have shifted the focus of some county boards to homeowner education.
"About 90 percent of the work we do involves backyard trees," said Frank Wolfe of Benton County’s pest board.
Some counties distribute pest management information to homeowners several times a year, reminding homeowners of their responsibility to keep all fruit trees sprayed. They also provide replacement certificates of up to $50 to use at local nurseries to encourage removal of fruit-bearing trees and some fruit-bearing ornamentals. Some counties have even tried attaching informational point-of-sale material on fruit trees at nurseries to spell out the dangers of unchecked pest control.