Picking Wild Edibles like Ramps and Other Legal Activities in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests


In part two of our story on collecting wild edibles, like ramps, and other legal activities on the National Forests in our listening area, we spoke with Elizabeth McNichols, District Ranger for the James River and Warm Springs Ranger Districts on the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests.  The two districts combined are about 350,000 acres in the counties of Alleghany, Bath, and Highland, and the two Forests span nearly 1.8 million acres in Virginia, Kentucky, and West Virginia.  You may have heard Ms. McNichols speak in her monthly US Forest Service report here on Allegheny Mountain Radio, but we delved in a bit further on the topic of harvesting plants in these specific forests.

Ms. McNichols says, “Basically, anyone can collect plant parts for personal use like berries, and mushrooms, pinecones, edible plants, as long as it’s for personal use.  The only areas that are restricted from collection are wilderness areas, and our special biological areas, and you can always stop in at the district office if you are unsure of where those locations are.  We ask that people don’t dig roots or remove entire plants, just because it will reduce the number out there for years to come.  We’ve had that problem with certain plant species, threatened and endangered species where people have picked them or dug them up, and they weren’t endangered previously, but now they are endangered, so that’s another one for people not to collect is anything that’s threatened or endangered in the state of Virginia.”

Ms. McNichols continues by providing some best practices for sustainability when harvesting wild plants like ramps.  She says, “So, we just ask that you don’t take a bunch at one spot, like take a whole community, like if you find a small community in one forest area, not to take all the plants.  Take what you need, and some places, people, if they’re collecting like in the fall, they would take the seeds and maybe they would dig up a plant, but then they would put the seed back in to the ground.  You know, there’s some good practices as far as that goes.  In the spring of the year, it’s a little different, because you don’t get seeds ‘til the fall, but I think, if people want to see these plants come back year after year, especially if they have some favorite areas, not to take all the plants from that area, especially if it’s a bulbous kind of plant that has bulb outshoots, that they want to leave some plants so they can keep growing.”

In addition, similar to the Monongahela National Forest, forest product permits for firewood can be purchased for $20.  However, Christmas tree permits are not issued for the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests.  The requirement of a permit, or a lack of one, to collect forest products applies to all citizens, regardless of the state they are from.  Because each National Forest has different regulations and rules, including varying threatened, endangered or sensitive species and special places, folks can learn more by contacting their district office or going online.

George Washington and Jefferson National Forests website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/gwj

Story By

Chris Swecker

is the Assistant Station Coordinator and a News Reporter for WVLS. He has roots in Highland County going back several generations, and he grew up in Monterey. Since graduating from James Madison University with a bachelor’s degree in Media Arts and Design, he has pursued his career at a news station and advertising agency in Virginia, on Microsoft’s campus in the state of Washington, and in both states as sole owner and employee of a video production company. He enjoys exploring life with his wife, Jessa Fowler, traveling, hiking, hunting, gardening, and trying new foods, all while discovering more about what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. He feels blessed to be a small part of this talented AMR team to help give back to the community that has provided him with so much.

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