Every summer, commercial mushroom pickers scour the previous summer's fire maps to find the most promising ground for morel picking. But in one of Idaho’s biggest burns, the forest will be closed to commercial picking.
The Mesa fire outside Council was a scorcher. But the Payette National Forest will not be regulating a commercial morel season.
Why is that?
Forest Service public affairs officer Brian Harris says, quite frankly, the Mesa burn just isn’t great mushroom country.
"If we did allow for commercial harvest this year, more than likely those folks would come here and end up disappointed in the long run," Harris said.
Wait ... really? I called up a professional forager to double-check that.
Every year, Trent Blizzard of the Modern Forager curates a morel guide for Western states by crossing wildfire information against forest conditions to predict where the best morel hunting will be.
So ... did the Mesa fire make the cut?
"Yeah, it did make the book. It was probably one of the top 10 fires in Idaho we would recommend. Probably at the bottom of the list though," Blizzard says. "It’s a huge fire. But a lot of it was in dry, desert-y, non-tree areas, and there’s only some fringes of the fire that look like they have heavy tree cover."
Mesa burn: good for mushrooms, but not great.
Blizzard says a mixed conifer forest is the best indicator of top morel country ... and in that regard, the Mesa is so-so. But, he says, the area has two redeeming characteristics.
"Number one, it’s very accessible," he says. "There’s a lot of roads going into it which is a real plus."
Two, the fire's size.
"Large fires are attractive because they offer so many different microclimates."
Although the forest isn’t offering commercial picking permits, those picking for personal use may still harvest in the Mesa, and up to five gallons a day per person.
Mushroom-picking guidelines offered by National Forests apply only to public lands. About half of the land burned in the Mesa fire was private land. Foragers should always seek landowner permission before looking for morels on private lands.
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