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Inundated by illegal pickers and none to enforce the laws

July 17, 2023

By Mike Weland

By law, huckleberries may be harvested for personal use anywhere on the Idaho Panhandle National Forests unless specifically prohibited. Commercial gathering on the Idaho Panhandle National Forests is not permitted. It is illegal to damage or remove huckleberry bushes. And yet local huckleberry pickers can find few undisturbed places to pick because of commercial pickers, many armed and all from out of state, camped out and tearing up the "secret" places most go to for their modest annual huckleberry stash.

And no one seems to know what to do to enforce the law.

"There are 20 to 30 berry pickers, mostly brought in from California and Washington, camped out on Deer Creek and up around Solomon Lake," a caller said. "They've been there over a month. I can't get to any of my good berry patches, and when I do, the bushes have been torn up with picks and rakes! It was bad last year, but this is the worst I've seen."

A call to the Bonners Ferry Ranger District this afternoon, though unproductive, confirms the concerns and echoes the frustrations.

"Oh my!" the lady who answered my call said. "That's all I hear! Over half the calls I take are about commercial huckleberry pickers ... all the people who could talk to you are out, can I have your number?"

The gentleman who called me today expressed frustration. The Boundary County Sheriff's Office tells him they don't enforce Forest Service laws on Forest Service Land. Folks at the local ranger district tell him there's but one USFS enforcement officer working to cover Boundary, Bonner and Kootenai County. Dedicated Boundary County agent Marc Gray transferred to Eureka, Montana, a year or two ago and his predecessor, Lee Taylor retired a few years ago.

His calls to Idaho Panhandle National Forest Headquarters in Coeur d'Alene have, as mine here at home, yet to be answered.

And it's not just huckleberry pickers. Earlier this year, the Boundary County Sheriff's Office responded to numerous complaints of commercial mushroom pickers trespassing on private property on the West Side Road, where last year's fires created good growing conditions for fungi.

In late July, a missing mushroom picker, Kuy Lonh, California, was rescued after an extensive search by Boundary Search and Dive Rescue, Two Bear Air and other agencies.

Commercial mushroom picking on the Idaho Panhandle National Forests is illegal.

"Why have laws if they can't be enforced?" my caller asked. I ask the same question.

Questions or Comments? Send us an email!

Mike Weland, Publisher

6931 Main St.
P.O. Box 1625
Bonners Ferry, ID 83805
(208) 295-1016

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