Morel bumper crop bombs
GSPI News Editor
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – So much for popping up like mushrooms.
The morel mushroom bonanza anticipated in White River National Forest areas hit by wildfires last summer has been a bust so far.
“There’s not a mushroom to be found,” said Vinnie Picard, a White River National Forest spokesperson.
The Forest Service braced itself for a possible onslaught of commercial and recreational pickers going after the culinary delicacies. The agency arranged a permit system for all mushroom gatherers, and designated campgrounds for commercial ones.
So far, two commercial permits have been sold in the Meeker Ranger District office and about seven or eight personal permits were issued in Rifle.
“Up in Rifle they’ve had crews looking and they haven’t seen any morels,” Picard said.
A few weeks ago, permit-buyers were thinking any morels would show up in a week or two, he said. But so far, no mushrooms.
“It’s getting more likely by the day that this whole thing is going to blow over,” Picard said.
Manny Salzman, an organizer of the annual Telluride Mushroom Festival, to be held Aug. 21-24 this year, isn’t giving up on the morels yet.
“It’s possible that they will appear later in the summer, especially in the higher altitudes,” he said.
Some morels were recently found in a canyon near Chatfield Reservoir on the Front Range, but not in an area hit by wildfire.
“As far as I know, in the burnt-out areas in the forests around Denver, there have been no fruitings of any morel mushrooms, as yet,” he said.
Morels have popped up after other wildfires in Montana, California and Wyoming. But Salzman said it’s a mystery why the mushroom growths occur. Some suspect a chemical or other product of the fire enhances growth, he said.
Said Picard, “It creates an opening on the forest floor; it just creates ideal conditions for them.”
A moist spring the following year also appears to be important. Colorado had such a spring. But Picard said mushroom hunters are speculating that the fires may have burned too hot to promote morel production.
Chris Hardwick, president-elect of the Colorado Mycological Society, said he and some other mushroom hunters question the whole morel-fire connection.
He believes morel growth isn’t a function of fire, and that morels generally show up only in normal morel spots, such as along rivers in lower elevations.
“I think they were a little misled,” he said of Forest Service officials.
Anticipating a run on morels, the Forest Service designated commercial picker campgrounds to limit damage to the forest. It also set a sliding permit price of $20 to $100 based on the number of days spent picking and the pounds gathered per day.
Those gathering morels for personal use can get a free permit good for 14 days and five gallons of mushrooms per day.
After that, they must pay $20 for another personal use permit good for the same length of time and quantity of mushrooms.
Salzman said morel mushrooms are more commonly found in the Midwest than in the Rocky Mountains. When a mountain morel explosion is predicted, it can attract people from far and wide.
This summer’s predictions created high hopes for morels gatherers.
“People who have eaten them are anticipating with great pleasure finding them in great quantities,” he said. “They’re a choice, gourmet mushroom.”
For that reason, there’s also an international commercial market for them.
Salzman said if a massive number of mushroom pickers shows up, the Forest Service restrictions are probably necessary. If few show up, “it’s probably overkill,” he said.
He said mushrooms are more threatened by loss of forest habitat than by picking. Picking mushrooms is little different from picking fruit; the plant, which is in the ground, isn’t harmed, he said.
Still, he said, people should pick only mushrooms they plan to eat.
The Forest Service’s preparations for a big morel harvest provided a learning experience for possible future mushroom outbreaks, even if no morels surface this year, Picard said.
“You never know,” he added. “They still might pop up.”
Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516
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