Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, introduced a bill last week that would standardize the rules for harvesting certain products from national forests.
The Special Forest Products Program Reauthorization Act of 2019 would expand a pilot program allowing people to harvest certain goods from public land for both personal and commercial purposes.
The new rules would apply to what the bill refers to as forest botanical products: “Any naturally occurring mushroom, fungus, flower, seed, root, bark, leaf, or other vegetation (or portion thereof) that grows on National Forest System lands.” They exclude trees.
In a media release, Herrera Beutler said the eligible products would include mushrooms, roots, seeds, Christmas trees and firewood.
“We have a rich abundance of natural resources in our public forests that benefit rural communities, tribal residents and visitors to our region. Folks should be able to responsibly harvest some of these products from their forests for their enjoyment and benefit,” Herrera Beutler said.
“I’m pleased to introduce legislation today to permanently extend this program that allows for the sustainable harvesting of special forest products, which in turn, helps with responsible stewardship of our federal forests.”
The bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore.
Under the proposed law, anyone harvesting goods for commercial purposes would need to obtain a permit from the U.S. Forest Service “to ensure that the amounts collected for forest botanical products are not less than fair market value,” the bill’s text states.
Individuals harvesting goods for personal use would not need a permit. Federally-recognized tribes gathering products for medicinal or traditional purposes would also be exempt from the permit requirement.
Endangered and threatened species growing in national forests would remain protected.
Existing law already allows mushroomers to harvest up to 5 gallons of mushrooms per day from federal lands, though the forager needs to obtain a free permit. Most national forests also allow the collection of firewood and Christmas trees, though costs and regulations can vary from place to place.
Most roots and seeds can be harvested from federal forests if the harvester holds a USDA Forest Service collection permit, which caps the product value of anything removed from the land at $300. The cost of a collection permit depends on what product the permit holder wants to collect, and from where.
Southwest Washington’s Gifford Pinchot National Forest, which covers 1.32 million acres, already allows the harvest of around $860,000 worth of plants per year — the largest Special Forest Products Program in the country.
In the media release, South Gifford Pinchot Collaborative Coordinator Lisa Naas Cook said the program enhanced forest health, economic vitality, recreation and public safety.
“We value the benefits of the Special Forest Products program for Forest Service operations, local communities, and tribes. We strongly support permanent authorization for the vital Special Forest Products program included in this bill,” Naas Cook said.