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IPNF officials appreciate concerns over illegal pickers

July 19, 2023

By Mike Weland

Idaho Panhandle National Forest Public Affairs Officer Patrick Lair affirmed Tuesday in a return phone call that the frustration expressed when I called the Bonners Ferry Ranger District on Monday to ask about reports of commercial huckleberry pickers camping and working in local public forests is felt throughout the region.

"We get complaints most years, but when there's a good crop of berries, as this year, it gets pretty overwhelming," he said. "We have U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officers out and about, but there aren't many and there's a lot of ground to cover. We understand and appreciate the frustration."

It is legal to pick huckleberries for personal use on Idaho Panhandle National Forests, but illegal to harvest them commercially. "Picking huckleberries with the intent to sell them is considered commercial use," according to the IPNF "Harvesting Huckleberries" webpage.

Based on that definition, it would seem a simple matter to put a dent in the practice of commercial harvesting by hitting the most visible manifestation of the practice, the "We Buy Huckleberry" stands that pop up in busy areas, such as the one currently operating at Three Mile. But it's not quite so simple. Though you may well know most of the berries bought came off the IPNF, a successful prosecution requires not only being able to prove which specific berries, but where they were picked and who picked them, beyond a reasonable doubt.

Though enforcement resources are extremely limited, with but three or four officers responsible for policing the entire 2.5-million acres of the IPNF, they do exist. Forest Service law enforcement personnel very much want slow and stop the commercial harvest of huckleberries on the public Idaho Panhandle National Forests, to end the destruction of huckleberry plants caused by harvesters using picks and rakes. They appreciate and need the public's assistance, but they need evidence, not complaints. Facts, not accusations or assertions. Information by which they can convince a judge or jury beyond a reasonable doubt.

"We appreciate calls to local ranger district offices and do our best to get the right information to the right people as quickly as possible, but it's rare to have the right people in the right place at the right time," Lair said.

Instead of calling to complain, a more effective method of protecting this region's most beloved, tasty and hand and smile-staining purple assets is to help build a case against those who come here to rip and strip the bushes bare for delicate berries that go for as much as $150 a gallon over on the coast.

Don't put yourself at risk -- don't challenge or confront anyone. Instead, take note of facts; who, what, where, when. Be specific. If you can, get pictures ... photographic evidence.

Go to the IPNF website contact page and submit it there, in writing. Leave your contact information even if you request anonymity ... the information you hope to convey is of little value if it can't be questioned, verified of used to meet proof sufficient to the high standard of law.

Questions or Comments? Send us an email!

Mike Weland, Publisher

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

A 9B Media LLC publication
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