As March comes to a close, many early season burn morel hunters are frustrated. This is especially true in Oregon where low elevation burn areas are just starting to go off and the public is not allowed to access those areas. Let’s talk about what we can do!
As we write this, nearly all the major burns in Oregon are closed: Archie, Lionshead, White River, Holiday Farm, Beachie and Riverside. Colorado also has several major fires closed. So far, Idaho, Washington, Arizona, Montana and Wyoming have most of their fires open.
Five Important Facts about Burn Closures
- The closures are dictated by the Forest Service – specifically, the Forest Service unit where the fire is located. The BLM land (in Oregon) is closed separately and with different orders. We note those closures in our Modern Forager burn maps with links and details for each fire. These closures are not created by the state or local government. Each burn has separate closure orders and some remain open.
- The USFS can close the entire forest – roads, trails as well as just general land. Sometimes the closures are just for specific roads, trails, or areas. In 2021, we are seeing the entire area being shut down. Some burns however just have specific roads closed (again, this is indicated in our burn maps).
- The closure orders all have expiration dates – this year, May 31st is the most common end of order date, but in Oregon one fire is open April 1st, one May 15th and one in 2022; the dates vary.
- Logging is intense – apparently these major burns are being logged extremely hard right now. It seems many of the closures relate to logging activity and hopefully they will wrap that up and re-0pen burns soon.
- This is unusual – Oregon has never experienced closures of this magnitude. California is well known for closing burns the year after a fire for safety reasons and frustrating mushroom hunters.
Five Strategies for Finding Burn Morels in 2021
- Wait. Reality check: it isn’t even April yet! The season is still in its infancy. Obviously the morel hunting will improve into late spring and early summer. Our favorite time to hunt is the end of May and early June. As the season progresses, much more terrain will become available (See #3 above) and higher elevation fires will start popping!
- Pick Second and Third Year Fires. These are all open! There are many older fires that offer low-elevation picking and are available right now. It’s fun to pick fires with less people. You can often find lots of mushrooms in older burns – get a bit more creative; hike in a bit more.
- Look at the lower rated fires – We have many fires rated B and C – they are smaller, or harder to get to, or have less trees – not necessarily fewer mushrooms! Perhaps try more coastal range fires. The fires in the SW corner or Oregon and NW corner o California never get A ratings from us. They can still produce mushrooms, but they just aren’t as prolific as areas to the East.
- Scout, Gather Intel & Get Creative – Even with the burns closed, opportunities may exist. Look around and keep your ear to the ground. If you see a Ranger, talk to them and see what they say. Look for spots that may be open. Ask permission from private landowners or study the maps to find alternatives.
- Travel Further – It is super frustrating when the fire just down the road from you is closed! Study the burn maps – look for some alternatives worth a longer drive.
Just like everything else in our world these days, the Burn Morel scene is a little different in 2021. It is probably a good idea to adjust expectations: morel foragers can’t just roll into big burns and start picking like in years past. Clearly, foragers will need to do more research and work a little harder. This may mean more armchair map research, studying closure notices, scouting the fires and the roads, or networking with fellow morel hunters to gather burn intelligence. Or, you may need to get more creative, have more patience, or travel further.
We will do our best to keep Modern Forager maps updated with access and closure info.
Road Closed Photo Credit: Bryant Baker CC