Getting Picky Over Forest use

dwheeler at dwheeler at
Fri Apr 24 16:06:47 EST 1998

The following article appeared September 23, 1993 in The Oregonian.


By ERIC GORANSON - of the Oregonian Staff

Summary: The Zigzag Ranger District is trying to keep a favorite forest area
from being overrun with fungi hunters

	For the first time ever, the U.S. Forest Service this fall will limit the
number of mushroom pickers in a section of the Mount Hood National Forest.
	Only 250 maps will be issued each day for the Old Maid Flats area north of
Zigzag, said John Davis, a Forest Service special products coordinator. The
maps will expire at the end of the day.
	The limit is in effect now, although the season won't start in earnest
until enough rain falls to encourage the growth of fungi.
	The mushroom limit, Davis said, could be a precursor of future
restrictions in the Cascades, where growing numbers of recreational and
commercial pickers are swarming into the woods to harvest products from weeds
to huckleberries and bear grass.
	It is possible, Davis said, that some day gates will be required to keep
people out, or staff members will be assigned to monitor what is being taken
out of the forest.
	Sealing off areas in the forest is something the Forest Service vehemently
has opposed in the past because the land is public domain.

Old Maid Flats Flooded
	The Old Maid Flats area has been so flooded with mushroom hunters in
recent autumns, Davis said, that both the resource and the forest floor are
being threatened. Old Maid Flats covers about 3,000 acres in the Zigzag Ranger
	A partial survey of the area in 1992 counted more than 1,000 persons, 254
cars and divots all over the ground where people had turned over moss while
hunting for matsutake mushrooms.
	Zigzag officials have issued mushroom-picking permits for three years, but
this is the first season when pickers must possess a dated map in addition to
their permit.
	Pickers can obtain mushroom permits and maps, on a first-come, first-
served basis, at the Mount Hood Information Center in Welches, Davis said.
When the maps dated for that day are gone, mushroom pickers will be turned
away. Davis said forest officials will confiscate the mushrooms of people
caught without valid maps.
	For decades, Davis said, the mostly Japanese-Americans who came to the
national forest to pick mushrooms for their personal consumption treated the
land kindly. Harvesters put back overturned moss and other debris, and they
removed the mushrooms properly, so the fungi would grow back.

New breed of pickers
	Today, the attitude of a new breed of pickers is to take what's there and
not worry about the future, Davis said.
	Spurred by the high pirces paid by buyers, commercial mushroom pickers
carrying 10-gallon cans sweep through the forest in waves, he said. Pickers
have been held up, shot at and even killed in Oregon forests.
	Personal permits allowing people to harvest matsutakes, morels,
chanterelles and truffles on national forest land cost $10. The permit, good
for 60 days, limits the picker's daily harvest to 1 gallon.
	Commercial permits cost $10 a day but place no limit on the amount of
mushrooms that may be taken, a fact that irks some people who harvest the
fungi for their own kitchens. Davis said commercial permits are not issued for
the Old Maid Flats area.
	Many people also object to the $10 commercial fee because it has no
relation to the value of the matsutake mushroom, which sells for up to $100 a
pound in Japan.
	But mushrooms are just part of the Forest Service's concerns.

Bear grass is hot
	Bear grass, moss, huckleberries, Scotch broom, salal, Oregon grape,
laurel, ferns, chimaphila, manzanita, vine maple and even pussytoe, a noxious
roadside weed, are being taken in increasing amounts.
	The products are used for food and medicines and in landscapes, floral
arrangements and construction.
	Next to mushrooms, bear grass is drawing a lot of interest. Forest Service
personnel fear the competition for bear grass could lead to conflict among
	Bear grass has become popular in floral markets and for making baskets
over the past decade. Tons of bear grass from the Cascades are shipped
throughout the United States and to Japan, Holland and Germany. A handful of
grass blades sells for $2 at Fred Meyer, Davis said.
	Harvest rules vary by districts, but Zigzag Ranger District officials
limit bear grass harvests to four areas and issue only 12 15-day permits a
year in each area.
	Each permit costs $450 and entitles the holder to harvest 3,000 pounds of
bear grass. Permit holders must describe the vehicles they use in the harvest.
	In 1992, the Mount Hood National Forest grossed $10,320 from bear grass
permits, and the harvest totaled 68,582 pounds.
	A person can pick between 100 pounds and 200 pounds of grass a day, Davis
said. The grass sells for between 25 cents and $1 a pound, depending on the
season and the quality.
	This year, many bear-grass plants are being dug up. Several hundred plants
have been taken, Davis said. Permits are required to dig plants, and only 15
plants can be taken on a permit.
	Since Southeast Asian immigrants do much of the harvesting, rules are
printed in Vietnamese, Cambodian, Hmong, French, Laotian and Mien, as well as
in English.
	Forest Service officials look at permit fees as one way of making up
revenue lost as a result of fewer timber sales. Some loggers fear the shifting
emphasis, but Davis said harvesting more than one resource was not only
feasible, it was good.
	He said the Forest Service had the responsibility of managing the woods as
an ecosystem, not merely of maintaining it as a giant public tree farm.
	"It costs the Zigzag district $100 to $120 an acre to pre-thin a stand of
timber and $250 an acre to prune trees," Davis said.
	"If we sell permits for bough harvests," he said, "we get our pruning done
at no charge, make some money and provide light for bear grass and
huckleberries to grow while increasing the value of the trees and providing
for other users."
	About 1,000 pounds of tree boughs can be harvested on each acre as many as
eight times before the trees become too large, Davis said.
	In the year ending Sept. 30, 1992, bough harvests netted Mount Hood
National Forest $7,542 in permit fees. Firewood fees earned $51,575. Bear
grass fees were next at $10,320.
	The extent of forest resources harvested illegally isn't known. Last year
an estimated 30,000 pounds of moss were taken illegally in one area alone.
This year, someone illegally harvested bear grass flowers over 10 acres.
	Catching all violators is impossible with a small law enforcement staff
and a forest of a million acres, Davis said. One way of reducing illegal
harvests would be to put licensed buyers on Forest Service land to track
what's taken, he said.
	But regardless, the public needs to be educated on how to maintain the
forest's diversity.
	Moss hunters must stop what they are doing, said Davis, pointing to a 3-
by-4-foot area scrapped free of moss on the forest floor. "It takes year for
the moss to grow back."
	As a result, Zigzag now requires moss hunters to limit their harvest area
to a 12-inch wide strip no longer than 10 feet. The maximum size of a harvest
is 10 square feet in any 100-square-foot area.
	The Forest Service has rules governing nearly everything taken in the
woods, but the rules vary in each ranger district. Anyone interested in
removing something should check with a ranger station before going into the
forest, Davis said.

Provides as a courtesy by
Daniel B. Wheeler

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