Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Empty Buckets?

There's a lot of chatter right now in mycological circles about proposed legislation in Oregon to require permits for all mushroom harvesting in the state. As written, the law would apply to both commercial and recreational mushroom hunters, although there is a proposed amendment to exempt personal use gathering.

After reading through the documents, I'm still not sure what I think about the legislation. There are arguments to be made for and against permitting. Complicating the issue is a whirlwind of accusations and counter-accusations flying around the message boards. Some say the bill is designed to discourage out-of-state commercial pickers and buyers; on the flip side, private landowners claim that a robust permit system will help to limit theft and property damage by truffle poachers.

The issue of truffle poaching, I suspect, is a real problem in places such as the Willamette Valley, but perhaps it needs to be taken up separately. There is also the question of large numbers of mushroom hunters impacting sensitive habitats on public land. This, too, is no doubt a problem in a few select areas where the habitat is limited (e.g., the Oregon Dunes) or the numbers of harvesters exceptionally large (e.g., Crescent Lake). But it’s hard to imagine that these instances can’t be handled on a case-by-case basis.

In general, it seems to me that public land managers in Oregon are in a better position to determine regulatory decisions in their districts than a sweeping, citizen-backed legislative effort. Admittedly, one could argue that land managers are playing "catch-up ball" when it comes to all things mycological, and we also know that citizen efforts have been necessary through the years to move an intransigent governmental apparatus.

The bottom line is that I'm in favor of getting people outdoors to interact with their environment. Local, state, and federal governments should erect as few barriers as possible to this outcome, while simultaneously protecting our natural heritage for future generations. It's a balancing act, to be sure.

For years, Washington State's Gifford Pinchot National Forest has required all mushroom hunters be permitted (a free permit in the case of recreational pickers), ostensibly to study land use patterns and user group demographics. In this case, the data might be useful to land managers trying to make decisions about sensitive habitats. On the other hand, the permit is a barrier to what is essentially, in most cases, a low-impact outdoor activity. Besides, it's only valid for 10 days, which strikes me as miserly, especially since a biannual commercial license is $125, considerably more than an annual fishing license.

I'd like to hear other thoughts on this subject. Comments open.

Photo: JacobC


sandy said...

from the USDA website: "You must pick up your free permit in person from any Gifford Pinchot National Forest Office. The Forest does not issue free use permits over the web, by telephone, by email or by fax."

All fine and good, except the offices open Mon-Fri during peak fall mushroom season, when a lot of us are at work...!

Geno said...

This is a tough issue. I personally can't stand regulations and permits, (hence one of the reasons we moved to northern Idaho), but I can understand the reasons for trying to manage the use of public lands to a degree, especially in high use areas. Those kind of areas are the ones I try to shy away from anyhow. I figure if I am going to be out foraging,I might as well do it somewhere peaceful and little used, right?
While we are on the subject of Oregon, we are heading to the Portland area in a week or two for a few days. Do you know if there might be anything worth hunting around for, or will it still be to early?

Langdon Cook said...

Sandy - I hear you! The Giff regs rub me the wrong way, too. I'd like to know more about what their goals are with these rules. Is it sustainability? If so, then show me data suggesting that rec mushroom hunting can be unsustainable. Is it about protecting certain sensitive habitats? Then how about regulating an area smaller than an entire National Forest that can actually be monitored.

Geno - I'm actually all for regulating the rich and powerful (i.e., corporations) who would despoil our environment for personal gain. Regulating the little guy just out for a day of fun in nature requires a wee bit more nuance, me thinks. As for PDX, verpas are popping along the Columbia right now, so morels aren't far behind...

Micah said...

Around here, at least (Southern OR coast), the permit situation has gone back and forth a couple of times since I've been collecting.

When I first moved here, permits were required for everyone, with the personal use ones being free, but you did have to go in person to get one. Then, last year, they dropped that and said only commercial pickers had to get permits, I didn't need one for personal use, but if I were caught picking in a group of people where anyone was also a commercial picker, I could be fined. That's a problem, since the club I belong to has pros and amateurs, and we all go out together, with the pros just helping us amateurs and maybe collecting a little on those trips.

The thing that really bothered me, though, was when I was in the forest service office getting my free permit, and also getting a permit to collect other forest products (medicinals), the ranger was pretty harsh with me about how small collectors like me were starting to add up to real damage to the woods, and we didn't take enough care of the landscape, etc. etc.

Meanwhile, on the shelf behind his desk, huge binders with labels: "Weyerhauser Contracts", "Georgia Pacific", etc. Who is the problem here?

Since moving to Oregon from Arizona, I've really come to believe that these huge commercial users of the woods have succeeded in keeping people disconnected from the nature around them, in ways that I never saw in other states. People here don't seem to go hiking as a casual thing nearly as much, it's a big production that they believe they have to get permits, parking passes, etc. for, only go to certain places, all subscribed as a planned activity.

People act like it's strange when I want to just pop off into the woods to see if there are some mushrooms for dinner, they've compartmentalized hiking and camping as some special, rare activity they don't have a right to do at random, on a whim. It's like a trip to Disneyland, more than just a stroll in a park. They see it as some special, rare thing, rather than a daily, given right that they shouldn't have to ask for permission to do. I think permit systems create this attitude, and I think the destructive companies promote it to keep hidden what they are up to out there.


Langdon Cook said...

Micah - Thanks for your comments. That's really disturbing. Did you point out the hypocrisy to the ranger. Education is a two-way street and they need to hear from us. I'm a mountain biker too and well aware of the footprint this user group can bring to the land, which is why mtn bike clubs all over the country have worked to improve trails, fix erosion, etc. I'm sure myco societies would be happy to lend a hand if the Forest Service could articulate what the issues are, but rarely do I hear about specific impacts on the land caused by rec shroom hunters, at least where I hunt. Yet most of us have experienced the sad event of returning to a favorite patch only to find it clearcut!

admin said...

Micah - that's very annoying that the ranger was getting on your case for a little collecting. I doubt that's very common. I worked for the Sweet Home ranger district in the Cascades for three years, and everyone there was very positive about collectors/hikers/campers. Most employees were using the woods in this manner themselves, and the district went out of its way to organize different themed hikes, including ones for collecting wild berries for personal use. I attended two of these hikes, and came away with two big, heavy buckets of wild blueberries/huckleberries and the botanist happily showed us a dozen really good spots that other people might have kept a secret.

Jeremy McKnight said...

I personally, severely dislike having to get permits, and that has limited some of my picking in the past in some areas. But then, I saw the damage that commercial picking could do when the Matsutake became worth big dollars in the early 90's. My families patch that we had picked for generations was "raked" and basically destroyed for several years/decades by commercial pickers. How to prevent bad practices but still allow pickers? I like your comments on letting the local land managers deal with the good and the bad versus an overarching state policy.

Langdon Cook said...

Jeremy - I hate to hear that. There's much to admire about commercial pickers, but I've also seen plenty of examples of what you speak of. One of my favorite nearby chanterelle patches--really, just a neighborhood patch not far from civilization--was picked clean by a commercial crew, who left the telltale wads of toilet paper all over the woods. (They were probably dropped off by a crew chief with nothing but a roll of TP.) These are issues that need to be dealt with. The question is whether state legislation is the most efficacious solution.

Micah said...

Langdon, it was disturbing, but I didn't say anything about the folders, just that I could only speak for myself, and that I am a very careful wildcrafter, and he'd be hard pressed to find any evidence I'd been in a place picking.

I haven't run in to many other rangers in this area, so I don't know how they are, but I agree that generally, in my experience elsewhere, they are very helpful and kind people.

Camping in northern Arizona, I was always happy to see the mint green truck go by, since often, the ranger would have some great tip about a special wildflower blooming, or a herd of elk nearby, and such. I'm hoping it was just the one, crabby guy at the office here!


AndrewM said...

I concur on the local authorities-having-justice should be the policy setters. They're the ones who know the land, ecosystems, and issues. They're also local to the users who can monitor the AHJ actions and have input on a balanced approach.

But on the 3rd hand, you end up with a quilt of policies & permits.

USFS in WA already has different regs for districts and even pieces of districts. But WA DNR has a blanket policy for private vs commercial, and there's none for Fed BLM. Then there's the state/country/city parks & lands...

Even if there were a state law in OR, would it supersede Fed policy for USFS/BLM lands?

Langdon Cook said...

AndrewM - It is indeed a crazy-quilt of regulations btwn local, state, and federal jurisdictions (plus rez). It's up to the mushroom hunter to be aware of the rules in each area. Unfortunately, it would seem that many states and municipalities are following California's "museum under glass" approach to the natural world. Here in WA I need to have no fewer than three window permits to hang from my rearview mirror, none of them cheap, if I want to do anything outside on "public" land: a "Discovery Pass" for state parks and forests; a "Northwest Forest Pass" for national forests, wilderness areas, etc.; and a Fish & Wildlife access pass for all the various hunting, fishing, wildlife refuge, and other access spots. National parks require their own fees and passes. Gone are the days of simply stopping by your public lands for a spontaneous walk in the woods. It kills me that this metastasizing of passes and fees is keeping people indoors.

Mojourner said...

A couple of things about regs and passes to think about. Without the regs, rangers have no way to crack down on abusers. Unless you have a tribal treaty right to gather, it is fair that your take be limited, unless you are willing to pay for a commercial license, in which case you should expect to be held to a high standard.

I pay $80/year for a federal land passs and $35/year for a Washington State "Discover Pass." Not extremely cheap, but it is easy to forage my money back. The fees are because society and their legislators starve the land management agencies, and so costs are paid by users. If you don;t like it, pressure your reps, but don't take it out on the government workers who have seen nothing but stagnant or cut pay for many years now, and most of whome work very hard and care for the land in their care.

Langdon Cook said...

Mojourner - I agree 100%. The rangers, forest service personnel, state parks folks, etc. are not the problem (though individuals such as Micah wrote of need a reality check). Regulations are a necessary part of civilized society; no one disputes that. And anyone planning to take commercial quantities of forest products out of the woods should be properly permitted. But what about the guy out for a hike who happens upon a pound of chanterelles that would make a fine meal back home? Or a few cups of huckleberries? Do we really want to take away the experience/satisfaction of finding something in the woods that can punctuate a day enjoyed in the outdoors? Already it's enough to get through the day without a ticket on your car. This crazy-quilt of regs across multiple jurisdictions succeeds mostly in scaring people out of the woods and doesn't strike me as the right way to go--though you're right: as a society we've decided to financially starve the public lands infrastructure, resulting in the current user-based fee structure. When it comes to recreational foraging, maybe...gasp...the different jurisdictions should talk to each other to come up with a sensible and consistent policy that crosses borders.