Forest Service designates areas for fired-up mushroom-pickers |

Forest Service designates areas for fired-up mushroom-pickers

Lynn Burton
Post Independent Staff

White River National Forest officials are taking unprecedented steps to handle crowds of mushroom pickers this summer.

A 100-acre section of forest north of New Castle will be reserved for recreational pickers and off limits to commercial harvesters, said Rifle district ranger Dave Silvieus.

The Forest Service will set up two special campgrounds for commercial pickers, who officials expect to converge on burned areas of the forest if the morel mushroom crop is good.

The agency will also require permits for all pickers who do their plucking outside the 100-acre recreational section.

“We’re trying to prepare for this event,” said White River National Forest spokeswoman Sue Froeschle.

Lands in the Glenwood Springs and New Castle area burned by the Coal Seam and Spring Creek fires last summer could produce bumper crops of prized morel mushrooms, depending on weather conditions.

“Morels respond to fire by producing more mushrooms,” said Andrew Kratz, botanist for the Forest Service Rocky Mountain Region.

Whether the forest produces a big crop, like the one that popped up in the Bitterroot National Forest in Montana in 2001, depends on the weather.

“In Montana, they had rain, then warm weather, then rain, then warm weather. The growing season went on for quite a while,” Kratz said.

That year, the growing season extended from May to September, and the crop attracted about 1,000 commercial pickers, said Bitterroot forest products coordinator Stacie DeWolf.

Commercial pickers are in it for the money, while recreational pickers are usually in it for lunch or dinner.

DeWolf said there weren’t many conflicts between the two group. One occurred when recreational pickers who didn’t pay $20 for a weekly permit sold mushrooms to commercial buyers who worked the forest.

“The commercial pickers said it’s not fair,” DeWolf said.

A bigger problem came between some Bitterroot area residents and the itinerant commercial pickers, most of whom were Asian or Hispanic. “They said `This is my backyard’ and `This is my country, not yours,'” DeWolf said.

Some Montana residents objected to the traffic commercial pickers created. At least one resident fired a gun to frighten away commercial pickers, while others used alternative scare tactics.

“But most of the conflicts were very minor,” DeWolf said. “We had very few problems.”

The White River National Forest is taking a cue from the Bitterroot. Silvieus said the area reserved for recreational pickers is located near Meadow Lake, about 15 miles north of New Castle.

“This allows those people an area where they don’t have to compete with commercial pickers,” Silvieus said.

Recreational pickers can roam the remaining 17,000 acres burned in the Coal Seam and Spring Creek fires, but they must buy a $20-per-week permit, and might have to hustle against commercial pickers for prime spots.

The two camping areas established for commercial pickers are located on the Cline Tops north of New Castle, and off Transfer Trail north of Glenwood Springs. Silvieus said commercial pickers must bring in their own portable toilets.

“We found suitable camping places away from water, and in areas that won’t damage vegetation or conflict with recreational pickers,” Silvieus said.

Randy Spierling, the Rifle district timber sale representative, said prime mushroom growing areas are in spruce and fir stands. Pickers must harvest the mushrooms by hand, and can’t use rakes.

“We want to disturb the ground as little as possible,” Spierling said.

Like others in the White River National Forest, Spierling doesn’t know what to expect with the morel mushroom harvest. “I’ve never been through this before.”

Contact Lynn Burton: 945-8515, ext. 534

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