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October 17, 2005

"Five Finger Discount" in National Forests

The ugly flip side to the US Forest Service's budgetary inability to prepare old-growth timber sales: the agency's finances are so anemic that it can't prevent thievery of other forest products.

Now admittedly, the harvest of mosses, mushrooms, and huckleberries doesn't have the aesthetic impact of clearcut logging. But even so, the biological capital in our national forests' is being drawn down unsustainably by collectors both commercial and private. What's especially annoying is the echo of the bad old days of rampant cutting on federal land: The common storehouses of the country's natural heritage, national forests, are once again being pilfered for profit.

A good article today in the Oregonian, with special attention to the Siuslaw and Gifford Pinchot National Forests.

UPDATE: Also, today on ENN, a first-rate article on the sociology and economy that surrounds the harvest of non-timber forest products.

UPDATE 10/20/05: A federal judge just ordered the Forest Service to re-open national forests to non-timber harvesting activities, such as mushroom collecting and Christmas tree cutting. The Oregonian has the coverage.

Posted by Eric de Place | Permalink

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Comments

my family has always lived by the cliched but excellent motto, "take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints." I wish other families taught their own children the same values when entering a national forest.

Posted by: Leah | Oct 17, 2005 10:30:02 PM

Carl Pope has a nice blog entry about the other shenanigans the USFS is foisting on the public:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/carl-pope/the-grinch-in-the-white-h_b_9064.html

The 30-day comment period action.

Posted by: Dan Staley | Oct 18, 2005 10:01:25 AM

It's important to prevent overharvesting, particularly from commercial gatherers. However it's also important not to go too far and make it illegal for a forest visitor to eat some huckleberries along the trail.

Feeding oneself from the wilderness can play a very important role in establishing a connection with it. I love to snack on native plants, and have gained a whole lot of knowledge and understanding of the ecosystems by learning about these plants. These days, I think we need to do everything we can to get people to feel more connected to the wilderness.

Posted by: Erin | Oct 18, 2005 9:10:55 PM

Good point, Erin. I think there's much to be gained from close contact with the wilderness, especially now when most people are so alienated from nature. Personally, I've been much-enriched by taking a few items from national forests: huckleberries, trout, and even the occasional Christmas tree.

But to my mind that's all the more reason to regulate harvests from overly zealous collectors, whether commercial or private. No one complains about regulations on hunting, fishing, timber cutting (even for firewood and Xmas trees), or backcountry camping, because those regulations help ensure that our grandkids will be enjoying the same benefits. It really bugs me, for instance, that berry pickers in the Gifford Pinchot did so much damage last year that the harvest was completely closed this year.

Posted by: Eric de Place | Oct 19, 2005 2:38:15 PM

Just a cautionary note...though I agree with SOME sort of regulatory approach on the National Forests, we need to be mindful of cultural uses. There are subsistence uses that are guaranteed by Treaty Rights (for example the Treaty of 1855 guaranteed rights to "usual and accustomed" areas used by the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Indians to continue their harvesting and gathering). American Indians in the States and First Nations in Canada have been utilizing these resources for longer than there has BEEN a Forest Service and Crown Land.

Posted by: Grace | Oct 20, 2005 1:00:50 PM

It's sad to me that a few people who overharvest (usually in the interest of making money) and break the rules cause the forest service to squash the small occassional users. It's just like any legal activity, all it takes is one yahoo to take it too far and then the state or feds just want to pass another law, thinking that will fix the law-breaker. It doesn't work or make sense.
On a different note, sometimes heavy harvesting is good. Take huckleberries for instance...has anyone else noticed that the huckleberry patches keep getting smaller and smaller? No fire. If you get a lot of people in one spot trampling the ground around the huckleberries, you'll probably get more huckleberries. Something needs to mimick fire in these areas or we'll lose more resources than we protect.
Same for timber harvest, some species are disturbance dependent (pine, larch, partly doug-fir, lodgepole, alder...). If you don't disturb the soil or the canopy, you don't get new trees. Also, if you don't have fire, then the understory shade tolerant species proliferate(white fir, doug-fir) while dense stands of pine, larch, and doug-fir regen don't get thinned and you end up with a forest that is in a state of collapse. Just like 70-80% of our current forests. No logging and no fire = no disturbance = no maintenance = no density control = dying, dead, insect, disease and fire-prone forest.

Posted by: Bryan Taylor | Dec 23, 2005 7:29:03 AM