Picking wild mushrooms is big business—and, for some people, their livelihood. According to Matt Zaitz, one Kansas native NPR interviewed in Montana, one pound of morels can be sold for $20—and on a good day, he can bring in $500 worth. It's usually a great gig—especially this time of year, after summer's forest fires have died down and mushrooms spring up in their wake. In fact, University of Montana Professor Andrew Larson estimates that "burned white fir forests in Yosemite alone could produce an average crop of more than 1 million morels per year, a sustainable amount for recreational picking."
The only problem? Mushroom picking in national forests has grown way beyond "recreational" and had gotten way out of hand—so much so that this year, the U.S. Forest Service, which in most years happily issues licenses for commercial morel pickers, is issuing none at all this time around.
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The problem? Humans. Humans ruin everything for everybody. According to the NPR report, every summer, pickers arrive en masse from everywhere—including crews of migrant pickers and gun-toting territory-staking maniacs. "People were using firearms or side arms to say, 'this is my area, nobody can get into it,'" Flathead National Forest District Ranger Deb Mucklow told Nicky Oullet. Folks were also leaving a mess behind in the forest—including litter and human waste. So this year, commercial mushroom picking at Flathead is totally banned. For anyone in the region counting on seasonal income from morels this August, well, we're afraid you're out of luck.