As huckleberries begin to ripen, pickers will soon be heading into the mountains.
Officials at Gifford Pinchot National Forest remind visitors that picking berries for personal use is free, but commerical pickers must obtain a permit.
Personal use consists of three gallons of huckleberries per person per year.
A popular location for picking is south of Ashford. Head up Forest Road 52, also known as Skate Creek Road, about 21/2 miles past Big Creek Campground. From there, go up Forest Road 84 into the higher elevations. Huckleberries are generally found at and above 3,000 feet, and the roads in that area will get berry hunters to that elevation easily.
You can find huckleberries on slopes with sunshine and plenty of water. Experts recommend looking for open areas such as older clear cuts and burned areas. Look for plants like beargrass, serviceberry, hemlock and Pacific silver fir. They are “indicator species, “plants likely to be near huckleberries.
Of the 12 species of huckleberries in Washington and Oregon, the most sought-after huckleberry is the thin-leaved huckleberry (Vaccinium membranaceum), according to a U.S. Forest website. That species is known for its large, sweet, purple berries, occurring singly on the plant.
The typical huckleberry shrub is low and erect, standing 1-5 feet tall. The leaves are short, elliptical and alternative on the stems. The leaves turn bright red before being shed later in the fall.
There is a bit of debate as to how to find the sweetest berries. Some people believe berries in shady areas are the sweetest. An experiment in 1974 by two scientists concluded shade was not a significant factor in berry sweetness, according to the Forest Service.
Berries are ripe for picking when they are plump and dark purple.
The use of mechanical devices, such as rakes, is not allowed on the forest.
Anyone harvesting more than three gallons, or selling any quantity, must obtain a commercial huckleberry permit, according to a forest news release. These permits are available at ranger district offices and the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument headquarters.
Commercial permits for the Gifford Pinchot National Forest will be available beginning Monday. The permits will be $40 per permit for 14 days or $75 for a season.
Berries may be harvested from many places on the forest, but some areas are closed to both commercial and personal picking. These areas include the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, legislated Wilderness Areas and the “Handshake Agreement” area of Sawtooth Berry Fields.
Since the “Handshake Agreement” in 1932 between William Yallup, chief of the Yakama Nation, and Gifford Pinchot Forest Supervisor K.P. Cecil, a designated area within the Sawtooth Berry Fields has been set aside for only members of the Yakama Nation to gather their traditional food. Please respect this agreement.