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Farm Beat: Hunting mushrooms a fun way to spend a day

A morel mushroom pushes up through the leaves. Members of the public can hunt the Stanislaus National Forest for mushrooms and other “forest products” if they have permits.
A morel mushroom pushes up through the leaves. Members of the public can hunt the Stanislaus National Forest for mushrooms and other “forest products” if they have permits. Wichita (Kan.) Eagle file

We, the people, own the Stanislaus National Forest, mushrooms and all. And we can each gather up to 5 pounds of the wild fungi for personal use, if we follow the rules.

I got an email this week from the U.S. Forest Service noting that permits can be issued for mushrooms and other “special forest products,” such as pine cones, needles and minerals. This belongs in the Farm Beat column, I’m thinking, because it’s in part about food (and national forests are under the USDA).

The morel mushroom draws the most interest because it is prized by chefs. It often appears after flames have swept the forest floor. This includes the massive Rim fire in 2013, but access to that area could be limited because of recovery work that’s still going on.

Mushroom hunters should avoid types that can make them sick. It helps to have an expert along on the trip.

The permits are free for personal use or $4 per pound for commercial collectors of more than 5 pounds.

“Mushrooms shall be cut, not raked,” the forest website says. And no, you shouldn’t use a chain saw. Save it for the firewood, also available with permit.

The rules also state that collectors “cut the mushrooms in half lengthwise during harvest.”

More information on the permits is at (209) 532-3671 or www.fs.usda.gov/stanislaus.

Mushrooms will likely never outpace timber when it comes to national forest products, even at the reduced rate of logging in recent decades. But a day spent gathering can be as memorable an experience as swimming in Pinecrest Lake or camping near Sonora Pass.

You can get a true taste of nature from mushrooms, and maybe a little insight into how the forest functions. Fungi help dead trees decompose into nutrients for new plant life. And there’s a specific kind called mycorrhizae that attach themselves to the roots of live conifers, helping them take up nutrients. Squirrels and voles eat the fungi and spread the reproductive spores on the ground, where they grow into more fungi that nourish more conifers. Circle-of-life kind of thing.

I learned this while covering the forest for The Union Democrat in Sonora during the 1990s. Those walks in the woods with the experts left me with an appreciation for mushrooms. And a craving for pizza.

Have an idea for Farm Beat? Contact John Holland at jholland@modbee.com or (209) 578-2385.

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