WENATCHEE – Grab your baskets, it’s nearly mushroom-picking time! An abundance of morel mushrooms and their pickers are expected to pop up in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest within the month.
Helen Lau, botanist for the Cle Elum Ranger District, said morels only grow in the spring and are rather prolific in Washington on the east side of the mountains. The spring/summer mushroom picking season starts April 15 and runs until July 31.
Morels can be found all over the world and seem to thrive in areas of disturbance, Lau said, and for this very reason, morels should be in high supply this season due to the recent fall wildfires.
“A large number of commercial harvesters will come to previously burned areas because, when conditions are right, it’s very common to have a good crop of mushrooms grow in areas that were burned by fires the previous year,” said Robin DeMario, a Forest Service spokeswoman.
If you plan to sell your morel harvest, you can buy a four-day permit for $20, a 30-day permit for $50 or a season permit for $100.
Commercial harvest permit carriers will be limited to specific areas within the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. At least 10 of those will be fire areas.
Those who want to harvest mushrooms for personal use, with no plan to sell, can pick up to 3 gallons per person per day. No permits are required. Personal-use mushrooms must be slit down the stem to differentiate them from mushrooms that will be sold. Law enforcement officials patrol the forest and will check for this distinct difference in picked mushrooms.
Rookie pickers should take the proper precautions to avoid picking poisonous false morels. DeMario suggests newbies read up on mushrooms and bring a mushroom expert along on the hunt.
You can take mushroom identification and other mushroom-related classes through Puget Sound Mycological Society. “You want to have a skill in it before you go out and do it,” DeMario said.
DeMario said pickers who plan on venturing into burned areas should be cautious of a few things. Some trees have been weakened by fires and have the potential to fall at any time. Root systems have burned out and created stump holes and uneven walking areas.
“Being aware of your surroundings is important. Take the time to scan your area every few minutes,” DeMario said. “Look around for leaning trees and watch your footing for burned-out holes.”
DeMario also said if heavy intense rains were to fall on burned areas, there could be potential for mudslides and flooding.