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It’s blueberry picking season at national forest

GLADSTONE — Have you ever enjoyed a just picked, wild-grown blueberry on the Hiawatha National Forest? Then you know first-hand why foraging for blueberries is such a popular activity on the Forest! Locating these hidden treasures is just as much fun as eating them! But where are they? Blueberries provide food for wildlife as well as for humans, so whether you’re a black bear or a human, you’ll be glad to know that you can predict where to find berries based on recent forest management activities. How? Let’s look at the basics of wild blueberry cultivation.

Over time, as its branches age, a wild blueberry bush naturally becomes less productive. This makes sense because blueberries evolved with periodic wildfires. Since the retreat of glaciers from this region approximately 10,000 years ago, certain ecosystems on the Hiawatha National Forest evolved with frequently recurring wildfires. Native Americans also used fire to help manage vegetation and hunting habitat prior to European settlement of the area.

With these facts in mind, U.S. Forest Service land managers use vegetation management activities, such as clearcutting and low intensity prescribed fire, to mimic the natural and historic wildfire patterns. These practices benefit species native to the local environment — and they promote blueberry production by eliminating competing vegetation and removing worn out blueberry bush branches to make room for vigorous new branches with lots of flowers.

“We methodically plan our management in blueberry habitats in order to maintain an ample supply of productive blueberry bushes,” said U.S. Forest Service Acting Forest Biologist Kim Piccolo, who is stationed at the Hiawatha National Forest’s Gladstone headquarters.

On a rotational basis, each year different parts of the National Forest are treated to benefit blueberries and support other management objectives.

“Blueberries and other native species benefit from vegetation management activities like clearcutting and low intensity prescribed fire,” said Eric Rebitzke, Hiawatha National Forest Fire Management Officer.

Tired, old blueberry bushes begin to rebound soon after treatment. 

“Of course, production depends on the weather, but generally blueberry bushes are most productive between two and four years after treatment,” said Brenda Dale, Hiawatha National Forest’s East Zone Fire Management Officer. She noted that late July and August are usually the peak of the blueberry season here.

And that brings us to how the U.S. Forest Service can help you find a good patch for picking berries this summer!

These maps of the recent treatments in blueberry habitat areas will give you a good starting point from which to discover your very own “secret patch”

If you head out to pick berries there are a few important things to remember:

– Berries must be picked for personal use only, not marketed commercially.

– Commercial gathering requires a Forest Products Permit.

– It is important to recognize and properly identify the berries that you pick and eat. Consuming wild plants may cause serious illness or death.

– Never eat plants you can’t confidently identify. Forage at your own risk.

– Get a Hiawatha National Forest map and use it! Always let someone know where you are. Downloading a map onto your cell phone for use when you’re “out of range” is a good idea.

– Never drive on roads that are not identified as open on the Hiawatha National Forest Motor Vehicle Use Map.

– Be safe! Dress appropriately. Be prepared for biting insects. Bring a map, compass, water and other necessities.

– Very important, check the weather and the Hiawatha National Forest Alerts page. The Forest is currently asking visitors to use extreme caution due to high-water levels and possible down trees blocking paths and roads.

“Blueberries are a nutritious native food source, but many people find berry picking is also a great way to relax and enjoy the Forest,” said Cory Henry, a Hiawatha National Forest Zone Fire Management Officer.

For more information about blueberry management on Hiawatha National Forest, contact Brenda Dale 906-643-7900, Cory Henry 906-387-2512, or Eric Rebitzke 906-428-5800.

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