Responsible and Sustainable Mushroom Picking

Simple Rules for Success

Responsible wild mushroom picking means more than just not over-harvesting our patch. Saving some mushrooms for other pickers is more than just courtesy… it might mean saving our patch for harvests later in the season or years into the future.

Here are three simple hunting rules that are pretty conventional wisdom:

  1.  Don’t over pick. Even if you believe that over picking is not bad for the mushrooms (like apples on a tree, many people believe that harvesting a mushroom patch doesn’t harm the health of the underlying mycelium and future generations of that mushroom), it is still courteous and considerate to leave mushrooms behind for another picker. Next time you see that big cluster of oyster mushrooms, leave half for the the next person! Don’t be part of the Tragedy of the Commons.
  2. Consider the Spores. Mature mushrooms release spores into the air that are essentially mushroom seeds. You can respect the spores by:
    1. Focusing your collection on mature mushrooms that have already done their thing (released spores).
    2. Leaving some behind, duh, see rule #1.  These will disperse their spores.
    3. Use a porous and an open-air container for your mushrooms as you walk through the woods. Don’t use plastic bags — which can ruin your harvest anyways; look for mesh bags, baskets, buckets with holes drilled in them, etc.
  3. Tread Lightly. Don’t trample all the little mushrooms and potential mushrooms in your hunting ground. Those big hiking boots can cause some damage if you are not aware and careful. Plus, it is kind of cool to leave no obvious picker’s trail around your shrooms.

Here are some of our IDEAS for collecting:

  1. Microtrash is a problem! We see the little tiny bits of trash you leave behind. Try to leave none.
  2. Mushroom trimmings… We have found good spots in popular areas when people trim their mushrooms next to where they pick them. Those get marked on our GPS! Spread those trimmings around a bit. Maybe one of them will start another patch.
  3. Learn something! Leave some strategic unpicked mushrooms behind and check them on your next visit and see what they look like. This will help you get better at gauging the life-cycles of your favorite mushrooms.
  4. Learn to recognize undesirable edibles (buggy, dirty, old, lower quality, etc.) and leave them behind to complete their lifecycle.
  5. Don’t be a commercial hunter. We are recreational hunters and harvest enough for ourselves and to share with family and friends. At the end of the day, commercial hunting is about the harvest and removes, literally, tons of mushrooms worth millions of dollars from the forest.
  6. We like to remove a mushroom with some grace and artfulness from the ground. That is an esthetic thing for us. We pry boletes and cut chanterelles and morels. Long-term studies have demonstrated that there is little difference in future production using either harvest method.

Alternative Facts?

Below you’ll find some other opinions, facts and alternative truths. Based upon internet research, here are a few supporting, or, dissenting opinions and science:

A bit about Mushrooms from Penn State “Sustainable Harvesting of Wild Foraged Goods for Niche Markets“:

“Mushrooms live mostly as a mycelial mat in the soil. The functional structure we see growing above ground is just the reproductive, fruiting structure that disperses spores. Morels are frequently encountered around specific host trees, since they may be symbiotic partners or opportunistic parasites on certain trees.” (Source: Sustainabl)

That is definitely true!  We look for specific wild mushrooms in specific types of forests, near specific trees. In Michigan you would look for morels around (dying) ash trees or apple orchards especially. In Colorado we look for big conifers, especially firs, for our porcini and chanterelles and avoid aspens like the plague. In Oregon we love the Grand Firs! But, I think the point here is that picking a mushroom might not be any different than picking an apple.

Long-term studies have demonstrated that most of this doesn’t matter:

Mushroom Picking study by Simon Egli et al 2006 was carried out in Switzerland in two locations from 1977-2003. They tested overall effect harvesting, different harvesting methods (cutting vs pulling) and also tested the effect of trampling on the forest floor. Here is what they found:

“The results reveal that, contrary to expectations, long-term and systematic harvesting reduces neither the future yields of fruit bodies nor the species richness of wild forest fungi, irrespective of whether the harvesting technique was picking or cutting. Forest floor trampling does, however, reduce fruit body numbers, but our data show no evidence that trampling damaged the soil mycelia in the studied time period.”

So, go for it, but, if you trample it will impact the rest of the season, but not the long-term health of the underlying fungus or future year’s abundance.

The Oregon 10-year Chanterelle Picking Project by Norvelle 1995 confirmed this. In this 10 year study, chanterelle plots that were picked actually did a smidge better than the unpicked. But, it was not statistically valid. Pulling or cutting was irrelevant. Go figure.

However this same paper by Norvelle does point out the true killers of wild mushrooms:

  • Clear Cutting “Sets the mycorrhizal clock back to zero.” End of mushrooms. Lots of scientific research on that topic is referenced by Norvell.
  • Dragging and compaction by heavy equipment during timber thinning
  • Removal of normal forest litter and other water-holding substrates can also discourage mushrooms.
  • Air Pollution has apparently decimated mushrooms around the world. Acid rain and fertilizer run-off may also impact.

Norvelle also makes an interesting “visual observation” that chanterelles do best in a “judiciously managed” mature forest… if the trees were too old or too young they underperformed. Keep in mind this is probably specific to the Portland area chanterelles.

Finally, check out a good article from FUNGI Magazine on the topic that has a lot of links to research: Agaricidal Tendencies: Settling the Debate over Cutting vs Picking and the Sustainability of Wild Mushroom Picking by Britt A. Bunyard

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