Missoula, MT, USA — Come spring, rising like a phoenix from the ashes of a fiery forest summer season, a fungus will emerge to entice hordes of humans into the woods of western Montana.
They’ll come in search of morel mushrooms, as predictable as spring melt, picking the delicacies that follow fire.
The folks at the U.S. Forest Service know they’re coming, and already have begun preparations. A proposal is in the works on the Flathead National Forest to open a commercial mushroom season on lands scorched by last summer’s Brush Creek fire. If approved – the public has until March 7 to weigh in – the plan would open 24,700 acres of burned-over forest to commercial pickers. Located 20 miles west of Whitefish, the land is on the Tally Lake Ranger District.
Experience has shown us that people will arrive en masse after a fire to harvest mushrooms, said Lisa Timchak, district ranger on the Tally. We have a responsibility to manage this situation by providing reasonable harvest opportunities while minimizing the impacts to the resources, including the social impacts.
In other words, by requiring permits for commercial harvest, forest officials can better keep a handle on where and how people pick and camp.
Private pickers – those plucking fewer than five gallons a day – would pick for free, while commercial pickers would pay a fee. Commercial pickers also would be required to camp in designated areas with proper camping permits.
Camps already have been selected, as have two buyer sites that would be available by permit.
The forest dealt with a large mushroom program after the 2003 wildland fires, Timchak said, and we learned a great deal about mushroom harvesting and how to manage this forest product program.
The year after those fires saw an enormous flow of pickers into the woods, with many going so far as to arm themselves to protect their fungal turf.
Timchak anticipates the morel harvest to begin in April and last into July.