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Get 'Em While They Last

The time is ripe for picking huckleberries

Welcome to some of the best berry-picking country in the Northwest. The following information is meant to increase your enjoyment and appreciation of huckleberry fields on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

Please take a moment to learn about the rules, history, and culture of berry picking. It will make your outing more enjoyable.

The Huckleberry

Twelve species of huckleberries grow in Washington and Oregon. They are often grouped into plants producing red or blue berries, and plants that produce berries in clusters or singly on the twig.

The most sought-after berry is the thin-leaved huckleberry (Vaccinium membranaceum). This species is renowned for its large, sweet, blue berries, occurring singly on the plant. The peak season for picking huckleberries occurs between mid-August to mid-September.

Harvest Regulations

Each berry-picker is allowed three gallons of huckleberries free of charge per year. If larger quantities are wanted, or if you plan to sell your berries, a Special Forest Product permit is required and available at your local Ranger District or Monument Headquarters.

Mechanical removal of berries is not allowed. This prohibition includes the use of rakes or other brush disturbing devices.

Harvesting of berries is allowed on the majority of lands on the forest. Areas closed to harvest include Wilderness, Research Natural Areas, Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, and the Mineral Block.

History

For thousands of years, American Indians spent summer and fall high in the mountains hunting, fishing, picking berries, and celebrating the plentiful gifts of the land.

Once every few years, they burned the berry fields after harvest, to kill invading trees and to insure healthy fields the following year. The Indians in this area regarded the rituals of picking, preserving, and eating berries as a cultural and traditional use with religious significance.

An area in the Sawtooth Berry Fields was reserved in 1932 by a handshake agreement between Yakama Indian Chief William Yallup and Gifford Pinchot Forest Supervisor K. P. Cecil for use by Indians. By understanding the historical significance of this area, it is hoped pickers will pay close attention to the signs indicating the areas reserved for use by the Indians. By doing so, you are respecting the culture of another people.

Berry Fields Development

Thousands of years ago, uncontrolled wildfires created openings in the vast forest. Huckleberries prospered in the sunlight caused by these natural openings. For countless years, repeated fires caused by lightning or set by Indians killed the invading trees and brush.

But the forest is constantly trying to reclaim its lost territory.

If it were not for fire, the berry fields of today would have long since been reclaimed by the forest. Today, scientists are trying to determine the best method of maintaining the huckleberries as a valuable forest resource.

Safety First

Be safety minded; think before doing.

Carry a light "survival kit" with matches, flashlight, map, compass, and first aid kit.

Tell someone where you are going and when you plan to return.

Make sure your vehicle is in good running condition and take along sufficient gasoline for the trip.

Obey forest regulations. They are designed for your benefit.

Be careful with fire.

Drive carefully. Forest roads are often narrow, winding, and congested.

2002 Hot Spots

The Mowich Butte area on the Mount Adams Ranger District has good amounts of ripe huckleberries now and it appears the crop is average in this area.

This area is the first to ripen on the district and berry picking can last until late-August.

Falls Creek area has ripe huckleberries ready for picking but they are scattered and it is not a good crop in this area.

Peterson Prairie area has ripe berries and it appears to be an average crop for this area.

There are also a few ripe berries showing up on Oldman Pass and Road 31 now. These areas can provide some fair picking but you need to spend some time locating a good patch of berries bushes.

They are not heavily picked, so if you're looking for a picking spot to yourself this is your best choice.

Questions and Answers

Where can I find the sweetest berries?

Everyone has their own idea on the best way to find sweet berries.

Many people believe berries grown in the shade are the sweetest.

However, based on an experiment in 1964, two scientists concluded that berry sweetness was not affected significantly by shade.

What causes some years to be better than others for berry crops?

Apparently, short-term weather patterns are more important than soil, topography, and climate in creating high and low quality berry crops.

The depth and duration of the previous winter snowpack, the occurrence of killing frosts, and such unpredictable events as hailstorms often determine to a large extent the quality of a particular year's crop.

Are camping facilities available in the area?

Over 55 campgrounds and 12 picnic grounds are maintained by the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The Forest Recreation Map details the location of these campgrounds.

Three campgrounds -- Cold Springs, Surprise Lakes, and Meadow Creek -- are traditionally used by Indians in late summer and fall.

How can I tell when they're ripe?

The berries are plump, deep purple, and sweet to the taste.

When is the best time to pick?

That varies by year. Generally, middle to late August is the best time.

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