Fungiphiles attending a field course on mushroom identification last month instead received a lesson in law enforcement when the course’s teacher was busted for failing to follow U.S. Forest Service rules on mushroom picking.
Course instructor Larry Evans, founder of the Western Montana Mycology Association, was leading a dozen students in the Glacier Institute’s annual
“Summer Mushroom Extravaganza,” collecting fungi on the Flathead National Forest’s Brush Creek Fire. The two-day, $140 course, now in its fifth year, promised to teach ’shroomers how to identify dozens of fungi, how to prepare edibles for consumption and about fungi’s role in forest ecology.
At one of the course’s stops, Evans walked into the woods to scout for specimens, leaving his knife, vest and permit at the car. When law enforcement arrived moments later, Evans’ basket contained five different kinds of mushrooms, all of them legal—except the morels, which were not cut in half.
“Morels are obviously the ‘big ticket’ item, much more so than other mushrooms,” says Pat Cooley, special forest products coordinator for the agency.
Requiring the high-dollar morels to be cut in half helps prevent personal use pickers from illegally hawking their stash. “It’s a method we use to make sure he’s not running down to a buyer and selling them.”
Both the Institute and Evans were permitted to hold the mushroom course on public land, but that won’t save Evans from the $125 fine, even though it’s his first mushroom violation. It’s a charge Evans will likely contest in court.
The permit says that ‘mushrooms must be sliced lengthwise at the time of harvest’ and that was my intention,” he says. “But my knife and permit were in the car. We’re going to have to determine what ‘time of harvest’ means.”
“We” will likely mean “the courts.” The agency’s permitting process and its “arbitrary and capricious” language have long frustrated Evans. He sees this case as an opportunity to advance his interest in non-timber forest products.
“Mushrooms are my livelihood,” he says. “I just want to protect the resource.”