• Tongass National Forest, Sitka Ranger District, clarifies rules for berry-picking and gathering on forest lands

Salmonberries await picking near the entrance to Sitka National Historical Park

Salmonberries await picking near the entrance to Sitka National Historical Park

The Tongass National Forest, Sitka Ranger District, is reminding people that any berry-picking or other gathering for commercial use on national forest lands requires a special-use permit. The rules clarification comes after a sign recently was posted outside a grocery store offering payment for salmonberries. Personal-use berry-picking and other gathering is allowed, so long as no money changes hands.

Please note, these are not new regulations and they have been on the books for many years. But the USDA Forest Service wants to remind people about them because many Sitka residents don’t know them.

“Here is an interim policy for special forest products attached (see link below), but it is long and cumbersome for most to read,” District Ranger Perry Edwards wrote. “The short version is you can collect berries, mushrooms, etc., for personal use in a national forest. But once you sell them it becomes a commercial use and a person needs to have a special forest product permit. So far, no one has officially gone through the process to get one from the Sitka Ranger District, as it does take some time for the USDA Forest Service to do the analysis and the public process.”

The interim rules and regulations run several pages, but the two paragraphs below help clarify Special Forest Products and commercial uses.

  • Special Forest Products – Special forest products (SFPs) are defined as products derived from non-timber biological resources that are used for subsistence, personal, spiritual, educational, commercial, and scientific use. SFP resources include, but are not limited to: mushrooms, boughs, Christmas trees, bark, ferns, moss, burls, berries, cones, conks, herbs, roots, and wildflowers. Also included are cuttings (such as of willow used for restoration) and transplants (as for landscaping purposes). SFP resources exclude saw-timber, pulpwood, cull logs, small round-wood, house logs, utility poles, minerals, animals, animal parts, rocks, water and soil.
  • Commercial Uses — SFP resources that are sold, processed for sale, or used in business operations are considered commercial use. Research collections for bioprospecting or other purposes by entities that do not have a cooperative agreement with the Forest Service or other federal government agency or department are considered commercial use and are subject to the same permitting procedures and requirements as other commercial uses. Commercial use on the Tongass National Forest is subject to the standards and guidelines in the Tongass Forest Plan, national and regional SFP policies, and the following management guidelines. In all cases, commercial use should not displace subsistence, personal or other non-commercial uses.

The Alaska Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation has similar rules for harvesting from Alaska State Parks, and earlier this summer began requiring a special permit for gathering seaweed at the Halibut Point Recreation Area in Sitka.

• Interim Special Forest Products Policy for Tongass National Forest, Sitka Ranger District

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