Driving from his job in north Bend to his home south of La Pine, John Scoggin stops to pick up ponderosa pine cones in the Deschutes National Forest.
While he enjoys doing so, he said he does it for dollars as much as for fun. He can load up four or five 42-gallon trash bags full of ponderosa pine cones in a short detour. He then sells them for $5 per sack to a pine cone buyer in La Pine, earning him $20 to $25.
“That’s my gas to and from work,” said Scoggin, 67, who works part time assembling display items and customer orders at Lowe’s .
Scoggin is not alone in gathering pine cones. In recent years, cones have become a cash crop in the Deschutes. Forest officials sell permits to small collectors like Scoggin and crafts contracts, similar to those for timber sales, to larger operations, said Ryan Grim, special forest products forester for the Bend-Fort Rock District of the Deschutes.
Free permits allow a picker to collect four bushels of cones from the national forest. A bushel of cones is enough to fill a laundry basket. Bags the size that Scoggin uses hold about five bushels. If pickers want to gather more than four bushels, they must pay for a permit.
The district has sold about $3,250 worth of permits this year, Grim said. The permits cost 25 cents per bushel of cones, with pickers paying a minimum of $20, good for 80 bushels, and maximum of $300 worth, good for 1,200 bushels.
For the past four or five years, the district has also offered cone contracts, he said. This year it set up two contracts at 5,400 bushels apiece, for about $1.30 a bushel. The contracts are worth about $7,000 each and give the contract holder exclusive rights on picking up the pine cones in a particular area. The two contracts this year each cover more than 60,000 acres in the eastern portion of the Deschutes, where there is not as much recreation as in the woods near Bend.
Whether the cone collectors have a permit or are part of a contract sale, their targets are pine cones on the ground that have already released their seed.
“There is no taking live ones out of trees,” Grim said.
While picking up pine cones does remove some biomass — or plant material — from the forest, the effect on the woods is modest, said Ron Boldenow, past chairman of the Oregon Society of American Foresters and a forestry professor at Central Oregon Community College.
“Biologically, it is a drop in the bucket,” he said.
The pines cones are collected with the holiday season in mind. Companies coat the cones with concoctions to give them a cinnamon scent. Then they either sell them by themselves or add them to decorations.
One of these businesses is Northwest Wreath Co. out of Gresham.
“They do Christmas wreaths, and they ship all over the United States,” said George Flores, who recruits pickers and buys pine cones for the company. Flores runs an operation at the junction of U.S. Highway 97 and Oregon Highway 31, where Scoggin sells the cones he collects.
Flores is looking for intact, open and colorful cones. “We can’t use smashed cones or anything of that nature,” he said.
Cone collection usually starts around April and can go through August, he said. As with other crops, the weather determines when the cones are ready. They typically fall from the trees on warm, sunny days.
Scoggin said he usually collects cones from early May until the end of June.
Picking and selling the cones give people of all ages a way to make some money, said Flores.
This is the company’s first year of running the operation, and he said it plans on keeping it.
“I think people are catching on,” he said.
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