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Large morel mushroom

Mineral County Hospital laboratory manager Sara Buchanan found this morel mushroom on a recent foray in the mountains near Superior.

With nearly 700,000 acres of Forest Service Region 1 scorched in the 2017 fire season, national forest staff throughout western Montana expect lots of interest in mushroom harvesting this spring.

The honeycomb-shaped morel mushrooms draw the most popularity due to their ease of identification, great taste and abundance in recent forest fire burn zones. Area farmers markets have already started getting deliveries, especially from fire scars along the Montana-Idaho border where the spring weather has been warmest.

Anyone picking less than five gallons, about two grocery sacks, of morel mushrooms this summer doesn’t need a permit, although they must slice them in half to prevent commercial sale. Private pickers wishing to collect more than five gallons should get a personal use permit from any area National Forest office. Permit holders may not pick more than five gallons a day and have a 20-gallon season limit.

Commercial mushroom picking permits must be acquired at a National Forest office and have a variety of restrictions on access and camping limits. Complete information can be found on the Forest Service Region 1 website.

On the Lolo National Forest, the Sunrise fire south of Superior, and Sheep Gap fire west of Thompson Falls have been designated for commercial picking activity. A small portion of the Rice Ridge fire east of Seeley Lake has a commercial picking area, while most of the burn zone is restricted to personal use only.

The Moose Peak fire on the border of the Lolo and Kootenai national forests has a mix of commercial and personal use areas. The West Fork fire northwest of Libby is entirely open to commercial picking, while the Deep Creek fire southeast of Trout Creek is mostly limited to personal use, with a small portion for commercial activity. The Caribou fire along the Canadian border west of Lake Koocanusa is split evenly between private and commercial picking areas.

Personal-use-only picking areas include the Lolo Peak, Goat Creek and Little Hogback fires on the Lolo National Forest; Weasel fire in the Flathead National Forest; Alice Creek, Blacktail, Crucifixion Creek and Park Creek fires on the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest; and the Meyers fire on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest.

In the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, only personal use permits are available. They are free for the asking.

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Natural Resources & Environment Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter for The Missoulian.