Foraging in Minnesota: Know Your Public Lands

Among online groups, I have noticed there seems to be a lot of misinformation and non-information regarding public lands and what may be harvested, and where. For my own benefit, I dug into resources to compile what information I could that will be of pertinent to foragers. In the interest of cooperation among foragers, as well as helping to protect the resources, I would like to share what I have learned, organized by land ownership and management type. 

State Lands

State lands allow foraging, and the rules are pretty uniform across the board. In general, you may take fruit and mushrooms for personal use. Commercial harvest is not allowed, except perhaps in state forests with approval and a permit.

State parks do allow foraging, but not for everything. Among other less specific mentions in Minnesota code, under 6100.0900, Subpart 2, it states explicitly: “Collecting or possessing naturally occurring plants in a fresh state in state parks is prohibited, except that edible fruit and mushrooms may be harvested for personal, noncommercial use.” That is good news for those seeking berries and mushrooms. However, in Subpart 1, it states: “no person in a state park….shall disturb, destroy, injure, damage, deface, molest, or remove…wildflowers or vegetation of any kind dead or alive…” That is not good for anyone seeking other foraged goods like ramps, fiddleheads, greens of any kind, or any other parts of a plant that aren’t fruit.

The rules for State forests are much like those for state parks. From the Minnesota DNR website: “It is OK to collect berries or mushrooms for personal use…” and “You must get a permit…to collect a large amount of berries, mushrooms….for personal use or for sale.” Whatever constitutes a “large amount” leaves room for interpretation. However, it is clear that a permit is needed for anything that will be sold by the harvester.

Wildlife Management Areas also allow taking of fruit and mushrooms for personal use. I have done so on many occasions. With well over 1,000 WMAs in our state, there are many opportunities to choose from, usually within a modest drive.

Scientific and Natural Areas: forget it. Few activities are allowed on SNAs, other than simply observing nature. There is only a blanket rule that starts “It is unlawful for any person to destroy, injure, damage, molest, or remove any natural resources within scientific and natural areas…” Look instead to Wildlife Management Areas or State forests. Rarely is there an SNA without a WMA or State forest within reasonable proximity.

Federal Lands

Rules for federal lands are much more difficult to find. In most cases, it would be wise to contact local offices for specific information.

There are two National Forests in Minnesota that undoubtedly receive a lot of foraging traffic: Chippewa NF and Superior NF. The respective websites give little clues. I happen to know that berry picking is a popular activity along the North Shore and the Superior Hiking Trail, which often involves national forest land. I called the Chippewa NF office in Cass Lake, and the person I talked to said there are no restrictions on foraging activities. She said there is a permit required for forest products (firewood, birch bark), which I knew, but that we are free to partake in the forest’s natural food.

The rules for National Wildlife Refuges are best obtained by contacting offices at each respective refuge. On the website for Minnesota Valley NWR, included among the activities allowed is: “Berry, mushroom, and nut picking (not more than one gallon per family, for personal consumption).”  This is an inarguable allowance. However, the rules listed on the website for Rice Lake NWR are considerably fewer and less specific. The only possibly applicable rule states: “Swimming, horseback riding, traveling by off-road vehicles or snowmobiles, or the collecting of any plants, animals and artifacts are also prohibited.”

Waterfowl Production Areas, while not usually forested, may offer additional foraging opportunities. Rules and availability of information vary from one management district to the next. From a summary of rules from a region that includes western Minnesota: “Collection of mature wild fruits, berries, above-ground portion of asparagus, and mushrooms for personal daily non-commercial use is allowed.” Not allowed are “commercial activities” or “removing natural objects or destroying plants.” It is recommended that one contact local management to be sure of the legality of foraging in any one location.

County and other local lands

Regulations differ greatly; it is advised that any individual find the applicable regulations for any city, county, or other land with regard to foraging. It seems the closer to a population center, the more restricted activities become. Below are some regulations from popular destinations near the Twin Cities metro area.

Three Rivers Park District rules leave little room for interpretation, and do not favor foraging. “It shall be unlawful for any person to…intentionally remove, alter, injure, eat, or destroy any tree, other plant, rock, soil, or mineral without a permit.” The only real loophole is that mushrooms (fungus) are not technically tree, plant, rock, soil, or mineral. That technicality might or might not save you from a fine. However, another rule will pretty much eliminate any hope you may have: “It shall be unlawful for any person to…hike in a park except in recreation and nature-center use areas, and on designated trails and roadways, unless authorized by special-use permit.” In other words, you can’t even step foot off any trails. These rules were not easy to find, but may be viewed in their entirety here.

Ramsey County parks and open spaces list a similar set of rules: “It shall be unlawful for any person to…intentionally remove, alter, injure or destroy any natural resource without written authorization from the Director.” That pretty much eliminates any hope of foraging. Side note: even fishing is heavily restricted; there is in fact conflicting information which suggests that fishing is allowed, but only on a catch and release basis. In section C of Chapter III, “..fishing may be allowed in designated areas…” but goes on to say “(it shall be unlawful for any person to) remove any animal, living or dead, from a park without written authorization from the Director.” Furthermore, under section C of Chapter IV, “It shall be unlawful for any person to…take any fish, frog, turtle or crayfish by spearing, archery, netting, trapping from park waters…” While fishing by hook isn’t outlawed, there is no provision I found that expressly allows fish to be taken from park waters. The full set of rules can be viewed here.

Anoka County parks have provisions that read very similarly to Ramsey and Hennepin County’s: “It shall be unlawful for any person to…intentionally remove, alter, injure, or destroy any tree, plant, rock, soil, or mineral without a Permit…” Perhaps that means there is a possibility of obtaining a permit, but does not specify. The full set of rules can be viewed here.

Conclusions

National forest lands, which offer literally millions of acres, are a best bet for freedom of use and area to roam. State forest lands, of which there are many widespread parcels in the state, offer much opportunity for harvesting mushrooms and fruit. Outside national and state forests, allowable activities can become quite restricted. When it comes to foraging on public land, know where you’re going and the applicable rules. Restrictions vary widely across public land types, so blanket statements about ownership (“state,” “county,” etc.) are of little use. When in doubt, call ahead!

 

Looking for something to forage? Visit the What To Forage page for year-round ideas.

 


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All content copyright NAGC and Roy Heilman, 2018