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City to short circuit brush pickers

For at least 22 years, so-called “brush-pickers” or “fern-pickers” have entered public lands without permission to harvest such plants as salal and huckleberry, to sell to florists. Bill McKinney, forestry manager, examines some of the damage. - Photo by Chris Mulally
For at least 22 years, so-called “brush-pickers” or “fern-pickers” have entered public lands without permission to harvest such plants as salal and huckleberry, to sell to florists. Bill McKinney, forestry manager, examines some of the damage.
— image credit: Photo by Chris Mulally

It’s the city of Bremerton vs. the poachers.

And although it’s only ferns and brush that’s poached, the city is serious about curtailing the activity.

The Bremerton City Council approved a contract with a harvesting company, Raymond Evergreens, Wednesday, June 14, that may take care of the problem.

For at least 22 years, migrant workers have entered public lands, without permission, to pick such plants as salal and huckleberry to sell to florists, said Bill McKinney, forestry manager.

Although most Bremerton residents will never see the plastic bags or defecation and trash the so-called fern-pickers or brush-pickers leave behind, the harvesting occurs on water-utility lands, and some trash has been found dangerously close to Bremerton’s main water supply — the Union River.

Besides the threat of contamination, McKinney said, “the alternative to not controlling the land is (that) the state could say (to us), ‘Hey, you need to filter your water.’”

Currently, water flows from the river into pipes that feed homes, but if the Department of Health mandates adding a filtration system, it would cost $15 million — with a cool $1 million in annual maintenance, McKinney said.

The source for the money? Higher water bills for customers.

Overall, McKinney said controlling the land sends a message to the Department of Health that Bremerton is serious about keeping an eye on things. Though seemingly minor, poaching like this is a real problem that can be controlled.

The new contract means Raymond will go into areas off of Belfair Valley road where groups have been harvesting huckleberry and salal, and harvest the plants themselves.

The program should start within two weeks. The timing is perfect because September marks the prime harvesting time, McKinney said.

“During the fall and winter months it’s a daily occasion,” he said.

The city of Bremerton will pay Raymond Evergreens to harvest the plants, and the company will write the city a check for the crop.

“I would be happy if this first year we made $10,000,” McKinney said.

McKinney envisions five to 10 workers at a time in the brush picking off the tips of the plants — but harming as little of the land as possible.

One concern of City Council members and McKinney is monitoring the harvest.

“This is going to be something very difficult for the city to control as far as what they harvest and what we get paid,” Council member Mike Short said.

The program is on the honor system, McKinney said.

“We’re not going to be out there every day counting how many pounds of brush they put in their truck,” he said. “There is some level of trust there.”

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