Black market morels
September 2, 2016 9:42 AM   Subscribe

I have been so tempted over the years to really buckle down and sell from my huge known patches of ramps and mushrooms. I've developed a skill, and ... I could use it to make money. But every time I think of it, I end up being caught up short by what happens in other places--over picking, extinction and just general bad times. I can't get my head around the morality of it, and I think that personal use only with a little sharing amongst friends and careful picking is the only way to keep going.
posted by RedEmma at 9:47 AM on September 2, 2016 [5 favorites]

It's a real pain in the ass that lots of areas don't let you pick mushrooms. Not even for commercial use, but personal. Whenever I went picking in Indiana it was always a semi-hidden thing where I would go to state/county parks at dawn or dusk and walk in from the road. The idea that I can thrash through a park on a mountain bike being fine, but walking around and foraging being forbidden is silly.
posted by Ferreous at 9:48 AM on September 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

First, I was surprised that state forests would regulate that, but when I read the article, it was obvious. I own a tiny patch of woods that is really rich in chanterelles, and I don't mind people picking them, since the nature of mushrooms is that they come back. But the trampling and the littering is so extreme, and the people who pick for profit are the worst. It's strange how they don't respect the land that gives them so much. Ironically, I go to the state forest when I need a big basketful, and my own have been picked. It seems the for-profit people don't go there, because they can't get as close with their cars.
posted by mumimor at 10:06 AM on September 2, 2016 [6 favorites]

t mumimor: if you have land and people are commercial picking on it, see if you can get a cut of their profits in exchange for access. It's a pretty standard thing for most of the people I know who forage mushrooms for profit. The bar to entry will generally get more respectful people.
posted by Ferreous at 10:12 AM on September 2, 2016 [6 favorites]

Or if you prefer to not do the legwork, a cut of the harvest. Either way, having someone you have an actual relationship with helps keeping them from trashing the joint. They can also act as another set of eyes against people who would trash it.
posted by Ferreous at 10:15 AM on September 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

That's too bad. Mushrooms are a relatively renewable resource, exactly the kind of thing the National Forests were designed to produce. Having users with a vested interest in managing the forests appropriately is a positive thing. I wish the solution for managing over-crowding (and the littering / trampling that goes with it) were to hire more temporary rangers rather than ban mushroom picking outright. Raise the price of the license to pay for the extra oversight. And don't give licenses to people who haven't followed the rules in the past.
posted by one_bean at 10:26 AM on September 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

"The problem isn't over-picking, says Deb Mucklow, a district ranger for the Flathead National Forest, it's the hordes of people who show up to pick."

posted by scottatdrake at 10:36 AM on September 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

a real pain in the ass that lots of areas don't let you pick mushrooms. Not even for commercial use, but personal.

I imagine, though, that that's an issue of resources, especially human resources. They'd have to set a limit and then check it to make sure people adhere to it, etc. That would be a lot of work - a lot more than checking to see that people just aren't picking at all, for one.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 10:41 AM on September 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Nah, mushrooms are essentially fully renewable. What you pick is only the fruiting body of a much much larger organism. There's no real risk to over harvesting.
posted by Ferreous at 11:13 AM on September 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

The thing with mushrooms is you are not harming anything by picking mushrooms. The organism is the mycelium, underground, mushrooms are just the ephemeral fruit. There's a short window between edible and slime, the people who are good know where to look and when. You are walking around with no tools but a basket and a knife saving them from mold and slugs. If anything should be foraged on public land, it should be mushrooms.

The commercial pickers have a reputation for being very aggressive and disrespectful... but these people have permits. Why does the state keep giving permits to people who brandish weapons or trash public land? Why is "too many people going for walks in the woods" seen as a problem? The forest service needs to actually manage this like they do everything else. Increase commercial permit fees, actually send a ranger or two out to see that people abide by them, have classes or ranger-led walks to educate amateur pickers on etiquette? I mean fish & game gets it's own department for this, how hard can it be to have a ranger walk through these commercial camps every once in a while?

They are letting these people ruin it for everyone, and because of the quick cash involved in mushroom picking a lot will continue no matter what the rules are.
posted by bradbane at 12:00 PM on September 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

I honestly don't know the answer to this but are there animals or other parts of the ecology the need some mushrooms to grow?

I do think people out commercially scrabbling for those last mushrooms might not always be the most careful of their environment. The lack of care, though, does sometimes be from the nature of commercial foraging in general as I've heard it about other wild foods. I have a friend who can rant about sloe pickers for at least an hour.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 1:31 PM on September 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Amazing how similar these arguments are to those of the ranchers using public land. "We're not the problem! We should be allowed to use this land as we want! It's the job of the forest service to manage the land!"

Now I'm waiting for a bunch of angry mushroom pickers to take over a ranger station or something.
posted by happyroach at 1:38 PM on September 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

I honestly don't know the answer to this but are there animals or other parts of the ecology the need some mushrooms to grow?

No, there is absolutely no problem with mushrooms getting picked when they are there. (I get slightly irritated when people pick tiny bitty mushrooms, instead of allowing them to grow, but even that is OK). The problem is what the mushroom pickers do to everything else: leaving garbage such as soda cans, cigaret buts and even feces, digging up plants or moving moss and lichen for better access to mushrooms, trampling down new tiny trees, scaring off wildlife etc.
posted by mumimor at 2:42 PM on September 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

The despoliation if the forests with litter and lack of care by commercial foragers is not much different than the littering of the seas by commercial fisherman.
posted by Thella at 3:29 PM on September 2, 2016

It's strange how they don't respect the land that gives them so much.

Seems to be an epidemic.
posted by Twang at 5:22 PM on September 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Market hunting (the commercial harvesting of wild animals and plants) always trends towards unsustainability. Two factors lead to over-exploitation. First, the conversion of public resources to private profit strongly motivates the harvester, but irresponsible harvesting harms the harvester very little since they can move on to other public lands. This is the tragedy of the commons. Second, as the effects of market hunting make the product scarcer, market prices go up, motivating greater harvest intensity.

Market hunting killed the passenger pigeon, the buffalo, a fair number of other animals you probably haven't heard of like the Labrador duck, and will probably destroy the remaining elephants, rhinos, and many species of fish. Plants have been pushed to extinction by market foraging less often, but it does happen. The European yew was extirpated from most of Europe in the 16th century to make longbows. Many tropical hardwood species are threatened today. Wild ramps are being over-harvested in some parts of the eastern US.

So given the track record of market hunting and the current poor to non-existent management of commercial mushroom foraging, I would be very surprised if commercial foragers weren't fucking up our public lands.
posted by ryanrs at 5:57 PM on September 2, 2016 [7 favorites]

Similar problem in the UK:
Free-for-all by wild mushroom pickers puts woodland habitats at risk
Until this month the New Forest National Park Authority permitted individuals to gather up to 1.5kg of mushrooms for their own use. Commercial collection was banned outright. But now it has decided to follow up the example of Epping Forest, which banned all gathering of fungi several years ago.

posted by Joe in Australia at 3:39 AM on September 4, 2016


My brother is a fastidious morel harvester in southern WY, and I've known a number of mycology enthusiasts in Northern CA. Passing this on to interested parties.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:22 PM on September 6, 2016

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