Forest Service Prepares for Commercial Harvest of Mushrooms

By Beacon Staff

The Forest Service is preparing for a spring influx of people who want to gather morel mushrooms on the agency’s lands scorched by fires last summer.

Burned lands are conducive to morels, which bring profit as stand-alone delicacies and as complements to other foods.

Flathead National Forest officials are taking public comment until March 7 on a proposal for a commercial mushroom season about 20 miles west of Whitefish. Picking would be on nearly 25,000 acres burned by the Brush Creek fire in 2007.

“Experience has shown us that people will arrive en masse after a fire to harvest mushrooms,” said Lisa Timchak, ranger for the forest’s Tally Lake District.

“We have a responsibility to manage this situation by providing reasonable harvest opportunities while minimizing the impacts to the resources, including the social impacts.”

Mushroom harvesting often draws people who want to camp near the harvest locations. The camping can raise social and environmental issues. Other concerns include rivalries over access to what are considered the best places to fill containers with “shrooms.”

The Brush Creek Mushroom Project proposal includes a system for issuing harvest permits.

People gathering fewer than 5 gallons a day would not be charged. Commercial pickers would pay fees. Camping would be confined to designated places and would require a permit. Flathead forest officials already have identified the campsites.

“The forest dealt with a large mushroom program after the 2003 wildland fires, and we learned a great deal about mushroom harvesting and how to manage this forest product program,” Timchak said. The year after those fires, some of the many pickers drawn to the woods armed themselves to protect territory to which they believed they were entitled.

Timchak expects the morel harvest to begin in April and continue into July.