Saturday, August 29, 2015

Sweet Green Icing

Kids, remember not to leave your cake out in the rain. And by "cake" I mean berries growing on bushes in Maryland county and municipal parks. You might just earn yourself a $50 fine.


Foraging seems like it should be euvoluntary. I can understand using fines and punishments to protect something like a community garden, where people have mixed their labor with the natural endowments of the earth, thereby asserting property rights over the produce. But naturally-occurring berries and mushrooms and the like aren't owned.

Of course, some sorts of forage can be destructive. When I lived in the Ashford/Mt Rainier area of Washington, it wasn't uncommon in the early summer months to see folks out with big ol' baskets by the side of the road a-pickin' and a-packin' the sundry bounty of the evergreen forests of the Emerald State. Most of what they were after were ingredients that were common in their home countries but which are largely unavailable for purchase in US supermarkets. Things like fern fronds, exotic varieties of mushroom, roots, and young leaves seemed to be their primary quarry. This sort of forage can destroy patches of the ecosystem thanks to the logic of an unregulated commons. Maryland legislators, perhaps wary of disastrous outcomes, passed appropriate legislation and hey-presto! Problem solved, right?

Of course, cops are trained to fight crime, not to interpret the nuance of legislative intent. The purpose of plant protection law is to protect plants, not to harass someone harmlessly collecting a handful of berries.

Of course, it could be worse. A half a c-note fine is petty compared to a guy my wife knew in Washington who got deported (to Korea, iirc) for exceeding a razor clam harvest limit. Deported.

Apologies to Nathan Burney, but the power of the state is a big ol' dumb hammer. Be very careful what you swing it at.


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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?