Mushroom haul a cash cow for pickers, buyers

Following the wildfires, parts of the Burns Lake region have seen an explosion in mushroom growth, and the arrival of dozens of mushroom pickers.

The main species sought by pickers is the morel, which looks like bulbous honeycombs and grows from the remains of burned forests. The ground in some areas, such as around Nadina Mountain is carpeted with morels.

They’re a delicacy item on gourmet restaurant menus but for the many pickers they’re a cash crop.

A good day of mushroom picking can yield at least 18 pounds of morels, which currently sell for $5-$6 a pound.

Pickers can take them home and cook them up, however most sell them to buyers who have set up small camps for receiving, weighing and drying the mushrooms.

There are three buyers working on the Southside and one near Fraser Lake, as Burns Lake resident Leah Leween told Lakes District News.

One buyer from Saskatchewan set up a camp near Grassy Plains last week.

“This is my first time here. Reason is because you chase the fires, the reason for the mushrooms to grow,” he said.

“In 2016 I found myself unemployed and became a buyer. My hobby has been picking wild mushrooms for 40 years and then it turned into a sideline business. I was picking pine mushrooms in Alberta in the early 80s.”

He points to the morels sitting on drying racks, which he said contain 250 pounds of mushrooms sold to him over two days.

But on a good day’s haul he can buy 1,000 pounds from pickers.

He buys morels for $5 a pound and then ships and sells them to West Coast Wild Foods in Burnaby for $8 a pound.

Since mushrooms are more than 90 percent water, he dries them out and they shrink and become brittle. He runs his fan all night to counteract nighttime moisture.

“Fourteen pounds becomes one pound once they’re dry,” he said.

He plops down a plastic bag full of morels. “This is 20 pounds dried. Worth a couple grand.”

He plans to stay here for at least a few weeks and later in the summer will head to Saskatchewan for the chanterelle mushroom season.

Some communities in British Columbia, such as the ?Esdilagh First Nation between Quesnel and Williams Lake have banned picking in certain areas and started a permit system to regulate the activity.

READ MORE: First Nation band bans mushroom harvest in West Fraser Complex fire area

READ MORE: Mushroom picking in Tsilhqot’in territory to require a permit

That was done out of concern for ecologically and culturally sensitive areas, and because some pickers are known for leaving behind a mess.

Mushroom picking currently operates in an economic and legislative grey zone. Transactions between pickers and buyers are usually done with cash, and prices aren’t set or controlled by a central authority. Government regulation of picking and buying focuses mainly on where picking is permitted: on provincial forest lands.

Permission is required to pick mushrooms on First Nations reserves, tree farm licenses, leased Crown land and private lands.

Picking is prohibited in parks, ecological reserves and recreation areas, and on defense lands.

The removal of the mushrooms itself, however, appears to have little effect on the environment, according to Professor Keith Egger, a microbiologist at the University of Northern British Columbia.

“I’ve seen no evidence that harvesting morels negatively impacts the mushroom,” he said.

“The morel itself is the fruiting body of the fungus, so it’s no different harvesting morels than it is harvesting apples, for example. It is the fruiting body that is being removed while the main part of the fungus, the mycelium, is growing below ground and continuing to carry out ecosystem services.”


Blair McBride
Multimedia reporter
Send Blair an email
Like Lakes District News on Facebook

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

A mushroom’s buyers drying unit holds racks of morels recently sold to him. (Blair McBride photo)

A mushroom buyer near Grassy Plains shows a bag of dried morels, worth a few thousand dollars. (Blair McBride photo)

Just Posted

Totem pole, first in 30 years, raised in Prince Rupert

The memorial pole was a two year project lead by local carver Lyle Campbell

Heart of our city – Fighting for the road to recovery

World champion kick-boxer wins at Trinity House recovery program

Tour recognizes Prince Rupert’s rich labour history

Epic story of the Battle of Kelly’s Cut put Rupert on the labour radar

Coastal GasLink breaks ground on meter station in Kitimat

Meter station marks final point on pipeline that stretches from Northeast B.C.

B.C. records new COVID-19 death, 85 more cases; Horgan calls on celebrity help

This brings the total number of active confirmed cases to 531 across the province

Wedding party bear sprayed at Okanagan campsite irks locals

Latest criminal activity at the Meadows leaves locals frustrated

Paramedics fired for allowing patient to crawl for treatment on Downtown Eastside: court documents

The man spent three days in intensive care and three months recovering in hospital from sepsis

Feds seeking private consultant to design firearm buyback program

The ban covers some 1,500 models and variants of what the government considers assault-style weapons

Face masks for teachers can impact learning on young children, experts say

Face coverings, mandatory in most indoor public places across the province, can help limit the spread of COVID-19

Horvat scores 2 as Vancouver Canucks beat Blues 5-2 in NHL playoff opener

Game 2 in best-of-seven series goes Friday night

Funding to support early reclamation work at acid leaking B.C. mine

B.C. Government committing up to $1.575 million for Tulsequah Chief Mine site

Teachers to get 2 extra days to prepare for students’ return, now set for Sept. 10

Students will first start with orientation and learn rules of COVID-19 classroom policies

Most Read