Mushroom hunters follow fire into burned forest

STOCKTON - When fire rages through a forest, it leaves vast devastation. It also brings an unusual form of life: morel mushrooms.

With burned and decaying trees create the perfect grow situation for morels, mushroom hunters have been flocking to near Yosemite National Park this spring where the Rim Fire destroyed more than a quarter million acres last summer.

"It's like hunting and fishing, but not catching and killing. It's the excitement of going out and seeking. We're not outsmarting the mushrooms; they can outsmart you," Jeffrey Novak from Marin County said.

Morels are so rare and supposedly tasty, they're priced at more than $45 a pound at Davis Food Co-op.

But mushroom hunters are a disappointed bunch as well because the U.S. Forest Service continues to keep closed nearly 200,000 acres where the Rim Fire burned.

Forest Ranger Fred Wong said burned trees are still falling in the forest, rocks continue to slide, and there are even patches of fire in the burn zone.

"We don't want to keep the public out of the closed areas, we want to open it up as quickly as possible. Regardless if they sign (liability) forms, ultimately, we're responsible for their safety," Wong said.

A hunter who didn't want to be identified admitted crossing closure boundaries to access morel mushrooms.

"It's not too dangerous. I've spent two weeks out here, I'm still here climbing up and down the mountains," he said.

The Forest Service has cited a number of hunters who have gone behind clearly-marked areas that are supposed to be closed. The fine is $350.

Permits for morel hunting are available at Forest Service offices. They're free for people consuming mushrooms for personal use. There's a charge of $20 for people finding morels for commercial use.


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