Huckleberry season is here! Starting now and likely to continue through September, those purple gems hiding under little leaves on low bushes along lakeside trails and on mountain ridges are ripening as we speak. A Forest Service rep says about 50 percent of lower-elevation berries in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest are well on their way to being ripe, with those at higher elevations starting to be ready later this month.
"It was so cold and wet, and freezing levels were pretty low late into the season," Gala Miller, public affairs officer for the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, says of 2022's long spring, which has led to a peak huckleberry season expected in late August, a little later than usual.
But before you head up a dusty gravel road to claim these precious pie and pancake ingredients, note that you'll need a forest products permit for your picking in Southwest Washington's Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Available online, the personal use permits are free, and can be printed out or displayed on a mobile device. (Commercial pickers need a different permit and must pay a fee.)
In 2017 the Forest Service, part of the US Department of Agriculture, started the permit program because, as stated in the program's FAQ, the "forest needs to know"—or at least be able to estimate—how many berries are being picked. It's also an opportunity for some education, Miller says.
"When you get the permit, we provide pickers with a map that shows where you cannot pick," Miller says, as some parts of the forest are off-limits for berry picking, including the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument and Indian Heaven Wilderness. The east side of Forest Road 24 in the Sawtooth Berry Fields is reserved for Native tribal members, following a 1932 agreement with the Yakama Nation—nonmembers should watch for signs pointing out the reserved areas and avoid them.
A council in 1932 between the Yakama Nation @ Forest Service resulted in a "handshake agreement," thereby designating part of the Sawtooth Berry Fields as an area of exclusive use to the local Indian peoples. Annual huckleberry harvest continues to be a cultural tradition. pic.twitter.com/5wKeeiBkz5— Gifford Pinchot National Forest (@GPNF) November 20, 2021
Huckleberry season, Miller notes, is usually prime wildfire season, too, so the interaction with the Forest Service website is also an opportunity to get information on fire restrictions and other conditions.
The free use permit for personal consumption allows up a one gallon a day (around four pies' worth), which would take many hours of productive picking and up to three gallons per year—that's enough for a pie a month if we can resist just eating whole handfuls of huckleberries.
While permits for berries for personal use are not currently required in the Mt Hood National Forest, the limits of up to one gallon per day and up to three gallons per year are the same. No permit is required for picking berries for personal use in Oregon State Forests.