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Be gentle with huckleberries, Forest Service urges

Huckleberries: tasty if not downright inspirational. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Huckleberries: tasty if not downright inspirational. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)

NATURE -- It seems sad that the Forest Service has to urge people to be gentle with our beloved huckleberry bushes.  Greed is a sickness even among people with purple fingers.  

Although the season is nearly dried up except at higher elevations, here's the release from the Idaho Panhandle National Forests:

Due to the dry season recreational pickers are finding fewer berries than in recent years. This shortage has resulted in many questions about huckleberry picking, and concerns for some of the rough methods and illegal picking operations recently observed on the national forest. The Idaho Panhandle National Forest (IPNF) is reminding huckleberry pickers that commercial picking of huckleberries is not permitted. Additionally, huckleberry pickers are encouraged to pick only what they can consume so that others may enjoy the fun of picking and the delicious taste of our state fruit.

At this time of year, it is not too surprising just about everybody in northern Idaho looks forward to huckleberry picking, but the IPNF wishes to remind forest visitors about responsible picking methods. Commercial gathering of huckleberries involves gathering the berries for the purpose of selling them, and is not permitted on the IPNF. In order to provide ample opportunities for recreational pickers, commercial permits are not available for huckleberry gathering. Minimum fines for commercial picking start at $250, and can increase based on the severity of the offense. For recreational huckleberry gathering there are no permits required, nor are there volume or weight limits, but pickers are limited to gathering only reasonable amounts for personal consumption.

Methods for huckleberry gathering vary widely, but pickers are strongly encouraged to hand pick their berries. This ensures that only ripe berries are harvested and the bushes will remain healthy and productive for many years to come. Although rakes and other mechanical devices may be used they are strongly discouraged. The use of rakes and other devices result in harvesting ripe and unripe berries indiscriminately, robbing others of the opportunity to pick berries later in the season. Similarly, any methods that damage or destroy the bushes are illegal and may result in a fine for damaging natural resources.

Huckleberries are delicious favorites of both people and bears. Because bears love huckleberries and make them a major source of summer and fall nourishment, humans who pick huckleberries should always carry bear spray. It is not uncommon to have a chance encounter with a bear that is out to eat the same berries you came for.

The huckleberry was designated by the Idaho Legislature in 2000 as the official state fruit. Huckleberries freeze well and can provide a very healthy addition to your diet all year long. It is estimated that huckleberries grow at elevations between 2,000 feet and 11,000 feet.  For more information about huckleberry picking on the IPNF, please visit our website or contact your local Forest Service office.

Rich Landers
Rich Landers joined The Spokesman-Review in 1977. He is the Outdoors editor for the Sports Department writing and photographing stories about hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, conservation, nature and wildlife and related topics.

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