The commercial mushroom business is booming on parts of the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest.
Forest officials have issued more than 1,000 permits to commercial pickers for areas scorched by wildfires last summer. Morel mushrooms flourish in the aftermath of disturbances like fires. Commercial pickers crisscross the country to pick the coveted fungi.
"It's quite busy, and we expected it to be busy and it is at least what we expected if not more in terms of volume," says Scott Godfrey, the timber management officer for the forest at Grangeville.
He says commercial pickers do their homework and target burned areas. Early last fall, before the fires were fully extinguished, the forest started receiving inquiries about its plans for commercial picking seasons.
Commercial permits range from $20 to $100 depending on the length of time they are active. They are tied to specific picking areas. Commercial pickers who want to camp in the forest must obtain a $20-per-person permit and stay in designated areas.
It hasn't been uncommon lately for lines of people seeking permits to form at the Grangeville office. "I have come in the office quite a few mornings and seen groups of people waiting to get in," Godfrey says,
He said pickers are getting $6 to $15 a pound for mushrooms. A few conflicts between commercial pickers have kept Forest Service law enforcement officers busy, but Godfrey says most problems have been minor.