Friday, April 22, 2016

Hunters searching burned-out Pacific forests for high-end mushrooms create a safety risk

Mushroom hunters are on the prowl for in fire-ravaged Northern California and Alaska, "in search of the black morel mushrooms that grow in the springtime after a forest fire," Lisa Morehouse reports for The Salt. While the mushrooms can fetch a pretty penny from upscale restaurants where they have become a fine-dining staple, fire officials fear that morel hunters are entering potentially dangerous terrain, putting their lives at risk.

Mushroom enthusiast Kevin Sadlier has been exploring Lake County, Calif., a couple of hours northeast of San Francisco, Morehouse writes. "Last September's Valley Fire—one of the most destructive in California history—changed the face of these hills, once thick with pine and fir trees. Sadlier told Morehouse, "It's as if fire is taking a gigantic eraser, and wiped life out. Where cleansing fire has made this rather sad, with black sticks in their landscape, morels love this." But Green "knows that finding the right conditions doesn't guarantee success. It's easy to mistake tiny burnt stumps or rocks for morels. Their textured caps are long and cone-shaped, like dark honeycomb."

Jim Wright, of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, fears for the safety of the mushroom hunters, Morehouse writes. "He's co-managing Boggs Mountain State Forest, where he says 80 percent of the forest's trees burned. His top priority is removal. On an active logging site, equipment with mechanized arms and saws fells dead trees, strips off burnt bark and moves as much as 100 truckloads a day out to mills. Even where logging isn't happening, Wright says, the forest is dangerous." He said the tops of trees will start breaking off and limbs will fall with just the slighest breeze, leading to burned-out stumps and roots create holes in the ground. He told Morehouse, "We can't interview each person to find out if they're qualified, see if they have a hardhat, if they're familiar with hazards of forest. It's just not practical." (Read more)

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