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Forest Service officials expect large numbers of commercial morel mushroom pickers in areas of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest burned in wildfires last fall.
The growing season for morel mushrooms will begin as snow melts and will continue through July depending upon elevation and aspect. The exact start date for harvest will depend on when mushrooms begin to appear in fire areas.
"Morel mushrooms commonly grow in late spring and early summer in burned areas the year immediately following the fires," said Mick Mueller, Wenatchee River Ranger District environmental coordinator and amateur mycologist. "It is not uncommon to find them growing in valley bottoms near the end of April but that will depend upon the weather we get this spring. Soil moisture and temperature vary enough that in some years very few morels pop up in burned areas."
Commercial mushroom harvesting permits will be sold at Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest offices starting mid-April. All mushroom pickers will be required to purchase a permit for commercial picking.
Collection or possession of more than three gallons per day or the intent to sell mushrooms requires a commercial permit. A 4-day permit costs $20, a 30-day permit is $50 and a season permit is $100 (the spring season runs from April 15 through July 31, 2013). Permits must be in the harvester's possession when collecting mushrooms.
Individuals with commercial mushroom harvesting permits will be able to harvest mushrooms only from areas listed on ranger district mushroom maps. These maps will soon be available at ranger district offices and the forest web site at http://www.fs.usda.gov/goto/okawen/mushroom .
Designated camps for commercial mushroom pickers will be set up at different locations across the forest. If needed, garbage dumpsters and portable toilets will be provided at these camps. Contact local ranger district offices for camping locations or go to the forest web site for a complete list.
"Among other concerns, garbage, campfires and sanitation will need to be managed at the designated camps," said Stuart Woolley, resources staff officer for the forest. "We will monitor heavily used areas and coordinate with other agencies as well."
Designated camps will be available for commercial mushroom pickers planning to stay overnight on National Forest lands.
Commercial harvesters will be required to use these designated camps. The National Forest will be closed to dispersed camping for commercial pickers.
"Directing commercial harvesters to designated camping areas will minimize impacts to fragile soils within the fire areas, help with vegetation recovery, protect riparian areas from large group camping impacts, and limit impacts to wildlife," Woolley said.
Free use mushroom harvesting for personal use will still be available. No permit is required for free use mushroom harvesting; people may harvest, possess and transport amounts less than three gallons per day. A new requirement this year for individuals harvesting morel mushrooms for personal use is that they are required to make a vertical cut down the stem of each mushroom immediately upon harvest.
Forest Law Enforcement will monitor compliance through the harvesting season.
Concurrent with the mushroom season, there will be a flurry of activity as Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) work picks up where it left off last fall. BAER work this summer will start with a re-evaluation of the burned areas for potential BAER treatments. Some of these treatments could include road work, noxious weed eradication and installation of automated rain gauges to provide early warning for potential flooding.
Road closures will remain in place for areas where hazards exist and to protect soft roadbeds until they have had a chance to dry out. Some BAER activities may require temporary area or road closures to provide for public safety. Mushroom hunters are urged to contact local ranger district offices to determine the status of the road they wish to travel.
"Staying in the designated mushroom camps will be a great way for pickers to stay informed about closures and BAER activities," Mueller said. "We will post current information, closure schedules, and maps on bulletin boards at designated camps."
For more information about commercial or personal use mushroom harvesting, please contact any Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest office during business hours 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, or go to the forest website at http://www.fs.usda.gov/goto/okawen/mushroom .
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