pine mushroom picking season in northwestern BC puts the region's forest
management in the spotlight.
By Jim Stirling
Each fall they converge from
across Canada and elsewhere with dollar signs in their eyes. They set up
extensive tent and recreational vehicle encampments alongside roads. From
these base points they scour the countryside in search of their prize.
It's the annual pine mushroom
picking season in the Hazelton, Kispiox, Cranberry and Nass regions of
northwestern British Columbia, and it's a time when the provincial forest
ministry braces itself for criticism. For some, mushroom picking is a
pleasant, recreational experience, an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors
during an often delightful season. For many more people, however. it's
viewed as a way to make good money fast. This usually isn't the case, but
the mythology sustains the migration.
mushrooms are a lucrative cash crop each fall for pickers in
northwestern BC. A task force has been established to draft timber
harvesting guidelines taking the mushrooms into account, but its
work has been stalled.
Buyers' stands spring
up among tents and RVs. Buyers pay cash for mushrooms, perhaps
$40/kg if demand, crop size and quality are high. Each day, the
fruits of the pickers' work are taken to Terrace. From there they
are flown to Vancouver and then east, usually to Japan, where the
mushrooms' freshness ensures premium prices.
Pine mushrooms are
mycorrhizal, meaning they have a symbiotic relationship with the roots of
living trees, rather than a saprophytic one that feeds on dead trees. Most
mushroom pickers in most seasons fail to reach their volume expectations.
It takes a good eye and experience to locate and properly harvest the most
productive pine mushroom sites. And the competition is intense. The forest
industry is a useful scapegoat for frustrated pickers. A petition
circulated during the 1997 picking season gathered more than 300
signatures, urging the Ministry of Forests to preserve mushroom sites in
BC's northwest. The Ministry of Forests is well aware of its
responsibilities as stewards of the public forests, and is keen to develop
a co-operative approach to better manage the pine mushroom resource.
"You can't protect the
resource if you don't know where it is," points out Laura Bolster, a
planning forester with the Prince Rupert Forest Region. And the mushroom
pickers are not about to tell. The profit motive promotes deviousness and
secrecy among the pickers. Many will go to elaborate lengths, including
setting false trails, to protect areas deemed to be productive from other
Bolster says only preliminary
small-scale research has been done concerning the relationship between
harvesting timber and picking mushrooms. She says indications conclude
that little damage occurs to mushroom sites if a block is 30 per cent cut
and ground disturbance minimized. But developing operationally viable
plans across large areas constitutes a huge problem.
Information on BC's three
major mushroom species is available from forest service and environment
ministry offices, along with pointers on proper picking methods and
camping requirements. But the work of a task force established to draft
timber harvesting guidelines cognizant of the pine mushroom resource and
the potential impacts on timber supply has been stalled. Money and the
Forest Practices Code are the reasons, according to a forest ministry
spokesman in Victoria. Ministry budgets continue to be slashed, and
changes to the Forest Practices Code are a priority and monopolize staff
time and effort.
Meanwhile, front-line forest
service people continue to get static from disgruntled pickers in BC's
pine mushroom zones.