Globalization has pervaded even the crafts world. California, with 54 species of conifers, is the heart of an American-centered pine cone industry. The industry comes complete with rules governing harvest.
Bobbie Pearson, principal at Columbia Pine Cone Company, notes that the vast national forests of the state permit harvesting. However, National Parks such as Yosemite prohibit the practice. Columbia obtains commercial permits to harvest their stunning Sugar, Jeffrey and Ponderosa Pine cones. They find their way to conifer-challenged households in diverse corners of the world.
Freedom to harvest pine cones comes down to a matter of quantity. According to Kevin Killian, Deputy Chief Ranger/Branch Chief-Operations at Yosemite, rangers don’t issue citations for pine cone gathering without evidence of wider resource exploitation. Conflict seldom arises. Mammoth Sugar Pine cones nearly carpet the forest floor of the broader Sierra.
In the Stanislaus National Forest, bordering Yosemite, the relevant pine cone quantity is 20 bushels ( or kitchen garbage bags ). Lydette Flores, Resource Specialist-Timber with the Forest, explains that free use permits are available for personally used cones up to that quantity. Chargeable permits at $20 become relevant for cones intended for sale.
Pine cones contribute to the park experience by helping sustain native bird populations. Sarah Stock, wildlife biologist at Yosemite, lists 34 bird species, among them 12 woodpeckers and 11 finches, that utilize the park’s 19 conifer species.
John Muir famously catalogued Yosemite pine species by elevation in his book Mountains of California. Sugar Pine cones garnish the forest floor at elevations above 4,000 feet. Jeffrey Pine cones , which are somewhat smaller but nevertheless impressive, lie around in abundance above 6,000 feet. Most widespread are Ponderosa Pine cones, found amidst extensive stands of this species at lower elevations.
The average tourist finds both souvenir and spiritual value in gathering pine cones. They are, foremost, a free memory of a trip. A walk in a conifer forest, with its fragrant air and coolness, is a sensual healing experience worthy of any spa.