Is Foraging Legal in Michigan?

Cover image for a blog post. In the top left corner is a green box with text that reads: "Is Foraging Legal in Michigan? Learn the rules & bring wild food into your life! By: Luke Venechuk, IYE Foraging Instructor". A photo in the background shows a person wearing a grey, black, and white sweater holding their open hand close to the camera, showing foraged wild onions. A woven basket holding tools sits on the leaf-covered ground in the background, with a shovel next to it. The In Your Element logo is in the top right corner.

Where can I forage? What can I forage? How much can I forage? 

We get a lot of questions about the legality of foraging during our foraging classes in Grand Rapids, so we’ve synthesized it all for you here!  Foraging is a great way to reconnect to the land and is also a practice of respect, both in terms of ethical foraging and legal foraging.  Read on to learn more about what is legal to forage in Michigan and explore the idea of adding wild foods to your diet!

So, is it legal? 

Generally speaking, yes, foraging is legal in Michigan and all through the United States, but what you can forage and where is another matter.

Public vs private land

The first question to consider is whether you’re on public or private land.

If you’re on your own private land or have permission to forage from the landowner, you’re good to go!  The only small legal caveat on private land is to be sure you’re not violating the Endangered Species Act or similar regulations.

Public lands aren’t so simple, as each type of public land has its own rules.  It’s not uncommon for specific parcels of public land to have their own specific rules as well.

The good news is that foraging of certain plant parts and mushrooms is legal on almost all public property!

What are you usually allowed to forage for?

On most public land you’re allowed to forage the reproductive parts of plants (not including the flowers) as well as mushrooms for your own personal use (…more on that in a moment!). 

A bountiful black raspberry harvest in the summer months, with buckets lined with plastic bags full of berries and dyed fingers from picking.

The plant & fungi parts that are generally legal to forage include:

  • Berries
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Fruits
  • Mushrooms

What are you usually not allowed to forage for?

If you are removing a part of the organism that will leave the plant or fungi damaged in some way, you are generally not allowed to forage for these plant or fungi parts on public land (even if you’re foraging in an ethical way).  

Some examples of this include:

  • Leaves
  • Bark
  • Roots
  • Shoots / stalks
  • Mycelium (mushroom “roots”)
  • Whole plants

The exception?  You are generally allowed to pull invasive species like garlic mustard to your heart (and belly’s) content, but it doesn’t hurt to check the rules and park details.  You never know if they are spraying pesticides and it’s good to ask!

Foraging for personal use vs commercial use

Generally, you can’t sell what you forage from public land. You can eat it, you can take it medicinally, you can use it to make art, you can hide it in your partner’s shoes to confuse and upset them, but you can’t sell it or use it to make something which you then sell.

Getting specific with the rules is an absolute must

What we’ve shared so far have been rules of thumb, but you must know the specifics of what is and isn’t allowed on the land where you are foraging. For that, there’s no substitute for looking up the rules and regulations that govern the public land you’re on. The more specific and recent the rules you find are, the better, because these rules do change over time.

Carefully harvesting a few select ramps, on private property in western Michigan.

So, where do you find these rules? You can call up the governing body responsible for the land you’re interested in and ask them to send you a copy of their rules and regulations.  These folks are generally very helpful and will direct you to what you need.  Even simpler, a Google search will typically get you what you need without having to talk to anyone. Search something like: “Cascade Peace Park Michigan rules and regulations” and you’ll be on your way, often finding the document you need in the first few results (or at least finding the governing body’s website, from which you’re only a click or two away from finding a PDF with all the legalese that lays out what’s allowed and what’s not, or a phone number to call to request the document you’re looking for).

You can also visit offices or visitors centers in person. There’s almost always someone at these offices to help you, and in our experience the people working at these places are very friendly and able to provide much more information than you can easily find on your own.  They may even be willing to tell you if the plant or mushroom you’re looking for has been found in the park you’re going to!

Want a cheat sheet of what we’ve learned over the years? 

Here are some more specific, but still general rules, for different types of public lands:

National Parks and Nature Preserves:

NOTHING is allowed to be taken from here, for any use.

National Forests

These are pretty permissive. Reproductive parts of plants and fungi (minus flowers) can be taken for personal or commercial use, typically up to 25 lbs of material per person per year.

State Parks

These generally follow the basic rules that were laid out in the beginning of this post; you can forage mushrooms, nuts, seeds, berries, and fruit for personal use.

State Forests

Same as State Parks. These generally follow the basic rules above, you can forage mushrooms, nuts, seeds, berries, and fruit for personal use.

Local parks (county and city parks)

The rules for local parks are a real crap-shoot because they tend to be the most briefly written. Local parks can be either the most permissive or the most restrictive based on what little is in their regulations. If foraging isn’t prohibited, then it’s allowed – but keep in mind that foraging may be covered by language like “shall not abuse wildlife” or “no activities resulting in the prevention of the future use”, and things like that.

Road right-of-ways, railways, sidewalks, etc.

You can’t forage on roadsides without the property owner’s permission, unfortunately. Road right-of-ways (ROWs) are easements on private property, and are treated as private property except for the purposes of the easement. For roadways those purposes are to allow space for drainage ditches, telephone poles, and safe vehicle recovery.

But remember: check the rules for where you’re going, because there are exceptions to these rules, too, and sometimes they are more permissive!  There are a few National Parks where small amounts of mushrooms may be collected. If you go to different states, they have their own rules as well, for instance Wisconsin allows for the collection of asparagus and watercress in state parks and forests. For every rule of thumb you can come up with, there is an exception.  You never know unless you check, so scope out the rules and harvest respectfully!

(We made an easy reference for you with all this info! Scroll to the bottom of this post for an infographic you can save.)

Concluding thought:

Is foraging legal in Michigan? Absolutely! Foraging on private land is always allowed (if you have permission) and foraging of one sort or another is allowed on almost all public land. Just make sure to check the dos and don’ts for the land you’re going to before you head out.

Want to grow your foraging skills?

Join us for foraging classes and mushroom walks in Grand Rapids, MI year-round!  Whether you’re an absolute beginner or you’re looking to expand your knowledge of wild foods, our classes are designed to help you learn how to identify plants and mushrooms throughout the seasons, how to know when to harvest, as well as habitat recognition, ethical foraging and more.  We’d love to meet you and help you confidently explore the world of wild foods in a legal, ethical, and empowering way!

Questions?  Drop a comment below and we’d be happy to answer!

Until next time, happy hunting!

An infographic from In Your Element that graphically summarizes some specific but still general rules for foraging on various types of public lands in Michigan. The text included can be found in the "Want a cheat sheet of what we’ve learned over the years?" section of this blog post.

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