People get intense about morels.

By Danica Lo
Updated May 24, 2017
For-Profit Mushroom Picking
Credit: © MCT via Getty Images

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.

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.

That said, there are still plenty of national forests where commercial mushroom picking is legal—as long as you have the right kind of permit. For example, commercial picking permits at many national forests in Oregon run $20 for 10 consecutive harvest days or $100 for the year. They're available from Deschutes National Forest, Siuslaw National Forest, Ochoco National Forest, Fremont-Winema National Forest, Umpqua National Forest, and Willamette National Forest. And in neighboring Washington State, commercial permits are also available at Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest and Olympic National Forest.

For local rules and regulations at national forests near you, check the U.S. Forest Service's official website.