Fungi & Ferns: Market Thriving for Nontimber Forest Products
Little, Jane Braxton, American Forests
For many woods workers, forests are rich storehouses of merchandise that require no skidders, no logging trucks, no sawmills. These workers go to the woods to gather forest products with shears, shovels, and burlap bags. They return with mushrooms and herbs, pine cones, medicines, and flowers.
Nontimber forest products represent a market niche with tremendous potential for the economies of rural communities. Gathering and selling the smaller fruits of the forest is providing seasonal employment to thousands of entrepreneurs in small towns.
The overhead is low - a few hand tools and some basic botany. The payoff is substantial - as much as $5,000 in a few summer months.
Mushrooms are starting to rival timber for economic returns in some areas. Harvested sustainably over a 100-year period, chanterelle mushrooms could exceed the value of timber harvested sustainably on the same forests in Washington and Oregon, say USDA Forest Service officials.
Ferns, beargrass, salal, and other floral greens collected in forests in the Pacific Northwest have been valued at $12.9 million annually and the task employs 10,000 people. Many of the gatherers are people who have been on the fringes of the timber economy - high school students, women with young children, retirees.
The training is uncomplicated. It begins with plant identification, says Janet Griffin, a member of Mountain High Herbs Cooperative in Mad River, California.
"Then we tell them how not to ruin the stock so they can go back after it the next year and the next. We've got to do this sustainably," Griffin says.
The expansion of nontimber products as a forest industry is bringing changes in forest management by forcing attention to the plants that grow among the sawlog trees. …