I posted a few days ago about our 3-5 year plan, to buy land adjacent to public forest land so we can set up a permaculture homestead on our own land, and hunt and gather on public land. I still have not spent as much time actually in national and state forests as I plan to, but I have made a preliminary observatino over the last year and a half of occasional outings: public forests have very little food diversity to offer humans! At this point I think I have a fairly good handle on native edible plants, but whenever I go out, I have a hard time imagining how we could get enough food from the forest to support ourselves. Obviously, with tracking, hunting, and fishing skills, we could harvest animals and fish. But still, I keep feeling surprised at how few edible plants I actually see.
I suspect as I keep learning plants, I'll see more edibles in the wild. I can also believe that a more thorough exploration of a given area would reveal more options than what I've seen so far. But I wonder whether some other factors also come into play...
Indigenous natives in the Pacific Northwest, probably like natives everywhere, cultivated food to some extent. Natives here routinely used fire to rejuvenate berry patches and to enhance hunting. Natives also maintained patches of camass bulbs and other root crops. I don't remember reading anything about natives cultivating plants other than berries in forests, but I have only scratched the surface of knowledge of how people lived here in the past, so I won't feel surprised to discover some level of active management of other plants such as filberts and oaks. So I wonder whether the forests today exhibit anything more than an echo of pre-European forests, and whether many of the native edibles occurred in much greater abundance where natives encouraged them. European genocide of natives (known as "settling the land") and genocide of forests (known as "logging") must have disrupted systems to an enormous extent.
Last year at anthropik.com, Jason basically stated that national forests in the US contain the land unsuited for agriculture, whether because of climate, soil quality, slope, etc. Jason expects some post-crash people to try cutting down forest to plant agricultural crops, but also expects them to fail so miserably that national forests will not suffer too much deforestation of this type.
That thought has stuck in the back of my mind, and I noticed when comparing Sunset's Western zone map to national forest locations that the national forests do coincide very closely with the super-cold Sunset zones, where people would find it very challenging to grow standard crops.
On our camping trip last week, I came across a fascinating section in Thomas Elpel's book Primitive Living, Self-Sufficiency, and Survival Skills. Elpel describes his early attempts to forage plant foods from the wilderness surrounding his Montana home. He kept finding himself hungry and frustrated, despite knowing all the edible plants natives did, plus edible european weeds. Eventually he realized that no native groups lived permanently in the mountains in which he foraged; all tribes known to use the area moved through it seasonally, harvesting certain crops at certain times of the year before moving tens or hundreds of miles to other areas. And even more to the point: "Many of the potentially sustainable [in terms of sustaining Elpel in foraging expeditions] wild foods on my list turned out to be species that grew only in the fertile, warm valley bottoms, around the farms and towns. This is no coincidence, since that is also where the native peoples camped. It is only us modern abos that expect to eke out a living perched on top of a mountain!"
So, if national forests do not currently grow many edibles, and if natives mainly used those areas for hunting or seasonal gathering of certain plant foods (such as berries), then we may need special strategies to live next to a national forest. The national forest itself may not support an unskilled tribe hunting and gathering, and the adjacent private land we buy may not be well suited to growing standard crops. (I still need to learn more about the private/public land interface.) I still think our plan for our private land makes sense: food forests designed using permaculture principles should give good yields next to a national forest where trees grow well. But the climate/soil/etc may limit our species selection, ruling out many common garden annuals, and even restricting our perennial species palette.
I feel totally exhausted (we canned apples and tomatoes well into last night (hence no blog post yesterday) and I didn't sleep in very late this morning), so I will finish up my thoughts regarding how the above ideas affect subsistence in a national forest in a future post. By the way, I always welcome feedback on any of these posts (even though I don't respond to every comment), but I especially welcome feedback on this one from anyone who knows more than I do (not hard to manage) about any aspects of this topic...