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Morel Mushrooms at the Pioneer Fire is Big Business

A morel has the ridges and pits. Photo by Doug Laber

Note: Morel hunters are already finding mushrooms in other areas not associated with the Pioneer Fire Region.

A presentation of Morel Mushrooms after the Pioneer Fire was made at the Garden Valley District Library featuring Bob Chehey and Genille Steiner of the Southern Idaho Mycological Association. They were discussed foraging for mushrooms safely and answered questions from newbie hunters to the seasoned foragers.  John Kidd, Fire Ranger in Lowman and Richard Newton – USFS Emmett Ranger District discussed safety on public land use and permits.

One year after a fire burned area is considered prime mushroom growing potential.  Of course Mother Nature can have a say in that also.  Prime seasons locally can be in May and June, but with the cooler weather and a wet spring, specialists say the season can change and even find mushrooms growing into August.  This year the Forest Service and Law Enforcement are preparing for a big influx of commercial mushroom hunters at the Pioneer Fire areas.  The FS has decided to issue 400 commercial permits and keep them in a particular area so it is easier for management and separation from the hobby mushroom hunter.

Morels of different sizes. Photo by Doug Laber

Commercial permits obtained from the USFS offices are $300 for 30 days in June to fill their buckets.  This is a first come first served process. These pickers are also limited to 150 gallons during that time period. Commercial areas will be in assigned. John Kidd explained the areas that will be patrolled by law enforcement in order to keep everyone safe and staying in their designated commercial areas. Maps will be available for picking areas.

It is suggested to go where the fire did not burn so hot. “Hot fires”, which Richard Newton explained, “is about 90% of the Pioneer Fire, will alter the soil too much for morels to grow.” Kidd recommended going to the north side of the South Fork of the Payette River. The fire was not as severe in that area.

Hobbyist mushroom hunters will also have to wait until June to approach the Pioneer fire areas. Their areas will be separate from the commercial plots. Personal use hunters are limited to one five gallon bucket per day. Steiner spoke of the highly coveted mushrooms but also stated her preference to NOT hunt in burned areas because of the soot you would have to deal with on your clothing and the mushrooms. She explained, “It is fun to go and pick the mushrooms but the real works is when you get them home and have to deal with them.”

Safety concerns and questions are asked about the false morels. “Some non-edible mushrooms contain a carcinogen similar to rocket fuel,” said Steiner. Chehey commented that “all mushrooms are edible if they have ridges and pits. Otherwise, they can be hard on the liver.” A false morel is a mushroom with a long cap over the stem. A morel is a mushroom that is one continuous cap and stem with ridges and pits.

Find the “blonde” morels among some willows. Photo by Doug Laber

Looking for morels in non-burned areas, according to Steiner, is best found in areas of mixed conifers or grassy areas. Elevation does not seem to matter.  Steiner explained, “You can go for a walk in the woods and look for the mushrooms. They are sometimes hard to find, but once you find one, then it gets easier to spot them.”

Written by Janet Juroch – BCC Staff