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Officials try to halt huckleberry cutting

LEWISTON – Pickers are illegally cutting truckloads of huckleberry brush in North Idaho forests and hauling it away, law enforcement officers said.

Officials with Nez Perce-Clearwater national forests have received reports from concerned berry pickers who play by the rules, but spokeswoman Laura Smith said authorities often don’t get enough information to make a case.

Some offenders claim not to know the practice is illegal or damaging to the plants, Smith told the Lewiston Tribune.

Huckleberries, which can range from the size of a pea to a large marble, are coveted for their sweet taste and can bring premium prices. The dark purple berries have a devoted following in the region and pickers often return to the same patches year after year.

But removing huckleberry bushes from national forests lands is illegal, and violators can face up to six months in jail and fines totaling up to $5,000. The violation occurs every year in the Nez Perce-Clearwater forests but appear to be rare in neighboring forests.

Officials in the Nez Perce-Clearwater forests said catching violators can be difficult.

“It is on a rare occasion that (Forest Service) law enforcement officers are actually in the right spot at the right time or have a reporting party that gives a license plate or enough information that can be followed up,” said patrol captain Jill Forth.

Plants that are damaged do not grow back and it may take several years before another huckleberry plant takes its place, Forth said.