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, I would like to share what I have learned. The following information is organized by land ownership and management type. It should help you find what you need before you grab your basket and/or mushroom knife and run out the door.

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

Minnesota 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.

State Forests

State forest rules 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

WMAs 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

Not many 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…” A select few sites have opened up to foraging in recent years, but they are few. 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.

National Forests

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 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) but that we are free to partake in the forest’s natural food.

National Wildlife Refuges

The rules for NWRs 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, WPAs 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 destinations in the Twin Cities metro area.

Three Rivers Park District 

Three Rivers 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

*2024 Update*

Foraging in Ramsey County parks and open spaces has historically been severely restricted. That is, not allowed, just like other park systems in the area. However, that has now changed.  

In a quiet revision of park rules (likely from 2022), basic foraging is now allowed. Under Regulations, number 4, part a, it reads “Fruits, nuts, and mushrooms on park property may be foraged and harvested for personal use.”  Here is a link to the document

While Minnesota’s state park system looks at possible restrictions, this is a welcome change. However, it would be unfortunate if Ramsey County parks receive undue foraging traffic. Like trampling of sensitive soils or plant communities. Or spreading of invasive species like garlic mustard.

Let’s use it but not abuse it—lest we lose it.

Anoka County parks

Anoka Co. has provisions that read very similarly to Three Rivers: “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 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 (“public,” “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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