Sustainable Harvesting of Wild Plants

 

Early spring is a great time to get outside for hikes, birding and collecting wild edibles.  High on the list of the latter category are fiddleheads (the unfurling leaves of ostrich ferns) and ramps (wild leeks).  Both species are quite common in Vermont, but excessive harvest has resulted in local population declines, according to the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department.

While commercial harvest of either of these species is prohibited on state and conservation lands, there is no regulation on private property. 

“Studies have shown that heavy harvest of fiddleheads significantly reduces the number of fronds, or leaves, produced over the next few years,” said Vermont Fish and Wildlife Botanist Bob Popp.  “These studies indicate that limiting harvest to less than 50 percent of the fronds limits impacts and does not reduce availability the following year.” 

Popp says the impact of harvesting wild leeks is even more severe because typically the entire plant is removed, but that it can be done sustainably by leaving the bulb in the ground and harvesting only the leaves.  He points out that leeks mostly reproduce vegetatively by sending out underground stems, but that only the larger, older bulbs are capable of this doing this.

“We encourage outdoor activities,” he added, “but we want to remind foragers to harvest sustainably and be aware of the level of previous harvesting before adding to that impact.”