Forest poachers raid undergrowth treasure

truffler1635 at truffler1635 at
Sun Sep 5 17:15:45 EST 1999

The following article is from The Oregonian, Sept. 5, 1999, p D1


Collectors vying for moss, bark and other products sometimes ignore
licensing rules and land boundaries

By HANS GREIMEL, The Associated Press

	ASTORIA - Lumber barons look at Oregon’s rolling carpets of forest
and see future fortunes in plywood and pulp. But under the lush canopy
lies a woody treasure of a different kind, and it’s increasingly
becoming the target of plundering poachers.
	Although moss, shrubbery, tree bark and other fores undergrowth have
long been legally harvested for use in floral arrangements and herbal
remedies, decreasing prices, expensive licensing and dwindling stocks of
the natural plants and forcing some collectors to cross the line.
	Clatsop County Sheriff’s Deputy Don Swanson stomped through dew-
covered ferns and slid his hand down the smooth, naked trunk of a
cascara tree, one of 20 in the grove stripped of its bark stem to twig.
	“The tree will die,” he said, shaking his head. “When you mention
poaching, they consider animal poaching, but fores product poaching is
just as big a problems. When I first started, I was like, ‘Is there a
market for this stuff?’ And sure enough, it’s a very lucrative market.”
	In the case of cascara, the bark can be ground into a powder prized
as an all-natural laxative and an ingredient in over-the-counter
	Just this summer, Swanson cracked a ring of 11 people who are
accused of ransacking the area and loading more than 1,000 pounds of the
peeled bark into a truck bound for a processing plant in Montesano,
	Last month, the group was indicted on theft charges for another
incident in which it is alleged to have stolen about two tons of bark
worth $1,300 off state land.
	Wholesale houses dealing legally in such specialty forest products
as cascara bark, moss, ferns and salal leaves can be big business,
grossing more than $66,000 a week at the height of the picking seasons,
said Dennis Heryford, chief investigator with the Washington State
Department of Natural Resources.
	Although buyers are required to check collectors to make sure they
are licensed to pick the plants, many fall through the cracks. Swanson
estimates that in his little corner of Northwest Oregon, he deals with
about 100 cases of forest poaching a year.
	In the case of cascara bark, the poachers sliced the bark up the
length of the trunk to a height of 8 to 10 feet. Other bandits pluck
holly, ferns, moss and salal leaves.
	Forty years ago, huge processing centers dotted the coast, drawing
upon the lush undergrowth of the Northwest’s termperate rain forests and
shipping the plants off to florists and pharmacists as far away as New
York, Los Angeles and even Holland.

Fewer plants, more competition

	But clear-cut logging has chopped down the protective canopy that
shaded the delicate undergrowth, and expensive licenses have made it
difficult for individual collectors to squeak by as prices for the
plants continue to stagnate.
	In Oregon, collectors pay a $250 fee for just three months of moss
collecting on state lands alone, said David Baird, who operates Oregon
Coast Evergreen in the small town of Tillamook. The fee system is made
more complex by the fact that state, federal and county authorities each
set different fees for each forest product: bark, ferns, moss, leaves.
	On federal bureau of Land Managmeent forests, for example, the fees
range from $11 to hundreds of dollars for a two-week crack at the
	In the case of moss, the problem for Baird is that the highest he
can pay pickers is 90 cents a pound. At that rate, moss collectors have
to bring in about 270 pounds of moss -- which they painstakingly rake
off tree braches -- just to break even.
	That is, of course, if they adhere to the permit system.

Poaching on the rise

	But even paying the fees doesn’t keep some collectors from crossing
the line, said Ron Exeter, a botanist with the BLM in Salem. He said
poaching is on the rise.
	“A lot of people use our permits and harvest on someone else’s
land,” he said. “Once you get the product and are driving down the road,
who knows where you’ve got it from.”
	Exeter said the BLM sells about 400 permits a year, but he estimates
about half of the permit holders take more than they’re entitled to or
plunder forests that are off-limits.
	Baird maintains that poachers represent a drop in the bucket but
admits he’s had to turn some away. He’s seen his legal picking force
drop from 300 five years ago to just 10 steady pickers today.
	“The permits are totally out of line with what we’re doing,” he
said. “They should encourage them to pick and at least hae a chance to
make it and not drive them out of business. It’s now come down to a
money thing.”

Posted as a courtesy by
Daniel B. Wheeler

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