The short answer to the question of whether you can take rocks from a river in Oregon is that it depends.
If you are planning a river rock collecting trip in Oregon, looking right now at some rocks you’ve found that you want to take home, or you brought some material home and now you are wondering whether you are in trouble, read on.
We’ll talk through some of the steps you’ll need to go through to determine whether or not you can take the rocks you found in the water home with you.
Is It Illegal To Take Rocks From a River in Oregon? (EXPLAINED)
This article is for educational and informational purposes, and should not be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice, we recommend that you contact an appropriately licensed legal professional.
Keep in mind also that the information here will not necessarily apply to taking home rocks from the beach. Do your own research for each individual location.
Step One: Where Are You?
While this seems like a silly question, it is a critical component to helping you resolve this issue. Funny enough, while hiking around natural areas, many rock collectors don’t, in fact, know where they are.
They might not know the name of the waterway, the name of the nearby road, or even who owns the land their feet are walking on. They might not be able to pinpoint their location on a map, or describe the location with any specificity to someone else.
The materials on the land and in the water (rocks, petrified wood, shells, gold, etc) are the property of the owner of that land. While we generally don’t own the water running across the land (though we can have rights to use the water), the land underneath the moving water is owned by someone.
That might be a local, state, or federal government, a corporation, a trust, or an individual. As such, the rocks in the river will be owned by whoever owns that land that the river is running across.
If you are standing with your feet in a creek, and want to take rocks home from that creek, you have to first know where you are. That will give you an idea of who owns that land.
And just because you were standing on public lands when you left your vehicle, it doesn’t mean that the ownership of the land hasn’t changed as you walked up and down the river.
This is especially the case when there are small mining claims established on a waterway. These plots are not large, and not always well-marked.
If you don’t know where you are, then you can’t answer this question.
Step Two: Who Owns the Land (Public or Private)?
Once you know where you can, the next step is to figure out who owns the land.
If the land is owned by an individual, corporation, or trust, then you’ll need to find out directly from that entity what the rules are about taking rocks or other materials from their property.
If the land is private, then it won’t matter what information you find online in Oregon about BLM collection rules. They won’t apply.
You’ll first start looking at a map, with your location specifically pinpointed. In most cases, you’ll be out in the woods in a big swath of public land.
But in the case of hounding near towns or where there are a lot of private landowners, the map might not make it completely clear.
Maybe you started on public lands, but then walked for a while and you aren’t sure if the land status has changed.
Look for signs of ownership (such as houses, fences, animals, and such).
In many cases, especially with rural properties, many plots of private land are bordered by a river or creek, and the land ownership extends to the middle of the creek, which can move in a given year.
Look for No Trespassing signs, or other signs indicating that the wilderness area has ended.
If you are walking along a creek that appears to run right behind a house, you might just very well be trespassing.
If you think the creek is privately owned, then taking a rock or anything else from the creek is considered taking something that does not belong you to.
And taking something that does not belong to you without permission is not legal (theft).
You could also be in trouble on the civil side of the law as well.
Step Three: For Public Lands, Which Public Agency Manages the Area?
While there are some general rules about rock collecting on lands managed by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management), there are also some specific rules about specific sites.
BLM allows you to collect up to 250 pounds a year (with some restrictions regarding vertebrate fossils, skeletal remains, and historical/Native American artifacts).
For the most part, that will extend to rocks that you find in rivers and streams.
That being said, there are also regulations about waterways that are designated as Essential Salmon Habitat or as State Scenic Waterways. While it is currently okay to remove up to a cubic yard per year without a permit from Essential Salmon Habitat areas and State Scenic Waterways without a permit, you won’t be able to collect anything from the waterway if there are any fish eggs present.
If you are on the beach picking up agates where a stream empties into the ocean, you’ll follow the rules established by the State of Oregon for Shore State Recreational Areas for Oregon beach collecting.
But in general, the rules for a specific public area are easy to find online once you know where you are. A simple google search will tell you.
The answer to your question about the legality of taking rocks home from the river is that it depends upon:
- Where you are
- Who owns the land where you are (public vs private)
- Who manages that land (if public)
- What the specific rules are that govern that space
Once you know the answers to these questions, you’ll be able to determine whether you can take those rocks you found home or not.
Still have questions? Check out our knowledge vault if you want to more about collecting rocks in Oregon.
See also: Beginner’s Guide To Cleaning River Rocks