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What are the rules on foraging materials in the US?

 
gardener
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I was trying to find rules on what I can and cannot harvest from land that doesn’t belong to me and isn’t in private hands.

I started down this road, with the weave a basket badge in textiles.
I’d like to use willow but I don’t currently grow any. I’d follow the indigenous ways as described in Braiding Sweet Grass. Don’t harvest from the first plant you find, only take what you need, no more than a third, give thanks and ask permission . . . Permission from the plant, not the landowner.

So when it comes to Landowner, I’m guessing the answer is going to be ‘depends’. Depending on township, district, county or State. So lets start with Federal Land. What can you take from Federal Land? Can I cut willow for basket making? Could I cut a tree down for lumber / firewood? Could I collect from trees that have blown down? What about State Land, in my case, NJ but I’d like to know about NY as well.

 
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I've worked in state parks and national forests.

Usually, the park service frowns on harvesting anything.

An example would be firewood.  We were told that it was okay to pick up something the size of a pencil.

Mushrooms were a no-no.

I understand some states offer permits to harvest.

My best advice would be to ask the park service what you can do, what permits are needed, etc.

I have picked up pecan laying on the sidewalk in the middle of a city or even on the highway.  And both were many years ago before I knew better.

It is always best to ask landowners as someone may not know that they feed those leftover cornstalks to the cows.

I would answer "No" to all your question.
 
pollinator
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With fed land the best bet is to just call and ask. National Forests have a front desk staff to answer exactly these kind of questions. Just call and tell them what you want to do. They issue permits for "forest products" which are sometimes free and sometimes not. I know where I live a guy and his wife (and their crew) harvest literal tons of conifer cones each year under a permit. Purpose unknown.
 
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Hi Edward,

In all cases get permission. Be certain the person who is providing permission is authorized to do so. I know of a young lady who was busted for theft for taking a single shingle off a state owned cabin that was collapsing in the woods. She had every charge possible thrown at her: theft, trespassing, vandalism, etc.
 
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yup, i think you’ve just gotta ask. i know a few people with firewood permits for national forest land. in general i would expect less to be allowed at parks and landmarks, and more in forests, whether in federal or state control.
 
Edward Norton
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Good to know! I better return my wooden spoon to the woods.

Thank you all.
 
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Around me, there are some easy options for foraging.  If you're in the "right of way" of the road, you can pick berries/apples/etc.  It's more risky to offend if you do it in front of someone's house but still legal.  There's also lots of managed forest land (private but public access is part of a low-tax deal) where you can forage for shrooms and berries and even hunt.

In your area, I'd call the town/city and see if they have guidance for the right-of-ways or city parks.  If there is public land around, check with the folks that run them.  
 
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Could this possibly apply to trash as well? If there is a publicly owned land you can't get in trouble for cleaning up trash right?
 
Anne Miller
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Sunny Kahlo wrote:Could this possibly apply to trash as well? If there is a publicly owned land you can't get in trouble for cleaning up trash right?



I would still ask permission.  

There is a saying that goes something like "One man's trash is another man's treasure."

Like Mike's example of a public right of way.  It might be okay to pick up trash there.  It only takes a phone call to be sure.

Some highways in some places have assigned a designation for clubs and organizations to pick up trash on the side of the highway.

I assume these designated areas are a service that the club or organization does for their county.  Maybe they make money off picking up the cans, etc.  I don't have a clue.

It just pay to take the time to make that phone call.
 
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If it's an environmentally sensitive area you might get in trouble for picking up trash if you step on anything other than designated trails. Those areas are typically well documented though. I have picked up mountains of trash in parks & forests without any problem. As it turns out ... most of the trash is near the trails.
 
pollinator
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I would say that it greatly depends on the land's designation. Here in the west, we have a lot of BLM land (Bureau of Land Management, aka Federal land), but it's not National Parks. This land is available to the public for hunting and hiking. There are limitations on usage, for example no atv's during calving season on certain tracts, and closure because of burned out areas at times. Burned out areas are attractive to mushroom foragers (morels in particular) but these areas are dangerous as burned out stumps create cave in problems. Most people in the area cut down Christmas trees on BLM land but it does require a permit (very low cost). To my mind, responsible collection for personal use is okay. Honestly around where I live, I would be totally open to allowing people to forage within reason, as would many people, provided that you share. To my mind, the earth provides more than enough if it was not for greed.
 
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Stacy Witscher wrote:I would say that it greatly depends on the land's designation. Here in the west, we have a lot of BLM land (Bureau of Land Management, aka Federal land), but it's not National Parks. This land is available to the public for hunting and hiking. There are limitations on usage, for example no atv's during calving season on certain tracts, and closure because of burned out areas at times. Burned out areas are attractive to mushroom foragers (morels in particular) but these areas are dangerous as burned out stumps create cave in problems. Most people in the area cut down Christmas trees on BLM land but it does require a permit (very low cost). To my mind, responsible collection for personal use is okay. Honestly around where I live, I would be totally open to allowing people to forage within reason, as would many people, provided that you share. To my mind, the earth provides more than enough if it was not for greed.



Best answer yet.  Most of the restrictions and permitting are for commercial users anyway.  Most folks tend to forget this or muddle the two together, (commercial and private,) and get totally wrapped around the axle about such things.  Almost everything you do in life at this point requires state permission; getting married, driving, (pretty soon sleeping,) etc.... and most people have been indoctrinated to think this way so that it is an automatic knee jerk response to think you have to ask permission.  I too grew up in the wide open west where thoughts of this nature hardly ever enter my mind because we take for granted we can forage. Don't be surprised if you encounter some resistance along your way to foraging, especially in New Jersey.  I would probably connect with your local foraging groups anyway.  They are probably some pretty hip folks and will know all the ins and outs for your area. Taking a shingle off of a landmark probably wasn't the best idea and it probably wasn't foraging either.
 
John F Dean
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Hi Mike,

Good point. I nearly was busted for picking up trash in a park many years ago.  The problem was the officer initially thought I was dumping when he saw my truck full of garbage.  Fortunately, he also saw all the empty bags I had with me.  I was graduating college and made it my mission to pick up all the trash around a lake in the area before I moved.
 
pollinator
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Of course telling you about rules and regulations here in the Netherlands won't help you in the USA, UK, Australia, or wherever. But there's one thing I can tell you: there's a difference between what's allowed according to the law and what you can do in reality! It seems here it isn't allowed to pick anything from the park (according to the law), but in fact you can pick berries and nuts and you can take fallen branches (of every size), or even bags full of fallen leaves (for mulch). Only you can not cut branches without permission. We, of Permacultuur Meppel (the community garden group) can cut willow branches in the season (winter) to use for our fencing. We have permission to do that.
 
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I do not think there is a simple answer to this question; there are too many variables depending on where you live and what you are seeking to harvest.

Where I live, it is illegal to remove stuff from the dump,  or be in possession of certain bird feathers; it is also illegal to harvest road kill...  All these "rules" make sense when explained,  but seem nutty at first glance.

Time to fire up Mr. GOOGLE,  find some local like-minded folks, and contact the appropriate government authorities.
 
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Yeah, state parks don't normally allow that kind of thing outside of survival situations. Areas set aside for hunting may be more open to it, assuming there is anything to forage. Outside of that, some states require foragers to have a foraging license if not doing so on privately owned land with the permission of the landowner. Also, issues with endangered/ threatened species may be an issue, especially on government run/ public land.
 
pollinator
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On foraging. For me, the rule is simple: If you didn't buy it, it does not belong to you.
Start with this as your overarching rule, no matter where you live and you will be OK.
Say you are walking along the road, on public land, and here are these fruit that have fallen to the ground, on the public side. You think. Hmmm, those would make a really nice compote. Try to put yourself in the owner's shoes, who may *also* have been eying these fruit falling over his fence, maybe just didn't get around to it. I know I would be ticked. So the simplest is to ask. A nice gesture would be to give them a small jar of your production to sweeten the deal for next year, as a "Thank you".
The worst thing that can happen is the owner will say no, in which case you will know where you stand and won't have to retreat like a thief.
The rule is a bit different if your neighbor has an overhanging tree that is raining fruit on your land. You are entitled to these fruit. [akin to neighbor's garbage left on your property]
I'd still ask though: "Oh, yes! please do! these darn mulberries! It was just a sapling when we bought the place. The kids track them on my nice carpet. I have to mow them constantly as they make new plants. I'm thinking of cutting the darn thing!]. (Ask me how I got 26 free mulberries bushes/trees on my property!)
I must have the special touch because I cannot recall a single time when the owner said no. The one who did had a perfectly good reason.[See below]
Maybe it is because I come from Europe, but the same applies to so called "public lands", be they Federal or State or a local park. They do not belong to *you*, they belong to *all of us*, so if you take, that means that the rest of the public is shorted. Nature too is shorted: The mushrooms will not reproduce, the trees will be missing cones, the flowers, the herbs that won't be there any more will impoverish that land, the bears / wildlife will have less nuts etc.
It is good that foragers are trying to be ethical and remove "no more than...%". Yet, if we don't ask, do we know how many 'foragers' are admitted to that park? One forager will not make a big dent, but over the weeks and months, 50 'foragers' could disrupt the ecosystem considerably.
In the fall of the year, when people have to bag their leaves for the city to take, I still ask if I may take them. They are delighted to get these ugly garbage bags out of their sight, but I'm happy I asked. One person said they were "saving them for my mom's garden in the country". I would have been mortified had I been caught in the middle of loading them up and be called out on it.
We all have a favorite park to visit and see the crops of the seasons. Let's all enjoy the walk in the park, and respect the rules: they are usually printed pretty clearly as to what you may not do. If we are all respectful of Nature and everyone else's rights to enjoy these same gifts, we will be able to enjoy them and pass them on to our grandchildren. If not...
 
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I forage for wild mushrooms. I’ve made it a point to find the laws covering mushroom harvest in PA and make sure I carry my phone with a picture of the pertinent regulations.

I’ll only speak to mushrooms in Pennsylvania, as every place is different. Here, we are allowed to pick mushrooms in state parks, state forests, state game land, and the Allegheny National Forest ( they limit how much you can collect without a commercial license).

Local parks seem to be a no-no but they vary.
I ask a ranger about it in a Delaware state forest and was told it was prohibited.
 
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I'm surrounded by National Forest Land. Permits are available for all kinds of items other than firewood at litle or no cost. Lava rock,mushrooms, moss, mistletoe, plants depending on how many ie. private versus commercial. Many larger tracts of NFL lands available in Oregon than NJ Though.
 
pollinator
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Here is one link you might want.

collection
 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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C. Letellier wrote:Here is one link you might want.

collection



Thanks, very helpful for National forests at least. States Parks may have different rules but they are good about posting them at the entrance. Local parks may be more iffy.
 
pollinator
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Just wanted to add my own personal example.
I always thought we weren't allowed to forage anything from National and State parks without a permit. But you have to ask. A park ranger at Mount Rainier overheard me telling my kids not to pick any of the fruit we saw because we had to leave it for the animals. The ranger politely informed me that every person was allowed to harvest a gallon bucket every day. So my kids were very excited to try the wild blueberries on the trail after that. But I do add my own rule to that. I don't pick anything unless I can see a good amount- like I pick one berry for every ten that I can see in that spot. Except for wild invasive blackberries- those I pick as many as I want wherever I see them. I think invasives you should use as many as you want and I don't know if any penalties anywhere for doing so. Just make sure you know your plant IDs. You wouldn't want to get a giant fine for picking something that turned out to be a rare endangered thing.
 
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