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Mushroom pickers in western Montana and Idaho can get their paperwork in order now while they wait for warmer weather to start their season.

Edible morel mushrooms typically appear in forest-fire burn zones in late spring. Rules for collection vary from one national forest to another.

Those seeking less than five gallons of morel mushrooms for personal use don’t need a permit on the Lolo National Forest this year. People who want to collect more than five gallons for non-commercial use may get a free personal-use permit good for up to 20 gallons a season. A paper grocery sack holds about 2.5 gallons of mushrooms.

Those who want more than 20 gallons for personal use must get a different permit and pay $1 a gallon, with a minimum $20 charge up to a maximum $300. Larger quantities require a commercial permit, which is only sold at the Plains-Thompson Falls Ranger Station, 408 Clayton, Plains. For more information, call 406-826-3821.

The most likely morel harvest site in the Lolo National Forest will be in the Copper King fire area between Thompson Falls and Plains. That fire burned about 28,500 acres along the Thompson and Little Thompson rivers. Anyone collecting more than five gallons of mushrooms there must have either a personal or commercial use permit. Overnight camping will not be allowed in the burn area, and no motorized or mechanized vehicles are allowed on trails there. For specific travel information, contact the Plains-Thompson Falls Ranger Station or check

Rules are a little different in the Bitterroot National Forest in the Roaring Lion and Observation fire zones. Roaring Lion fire burned about 8,700 acres in the steep mountains five miles southwest of Hamilton, and the 1,422-acre Observation Fire took place about five miles beyond that.

No commercial picking will be allowed in the Bitterroot Forest for 2017, but private use is OK with a free permit. Permit holders may take up to five gallons a day or 20 gallons over the season. No overnight camping is allowed in the burn zones, and pickers should be aware that much of the burn zone borders or crosses private property. Personal use permits are available at all Bitterroot Forest offices and ranger stations, as is a new 2017 Mushroom Picker’s Guide:

Across the border in Idaho, personal use permits from the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest are available at the district office in Orofino or at the Pierce Work Center, 234 Canal Street, Pierce. The permits allow collection of up to five gallons a day or 20 gallons for the season. No commercial permits will be offered this year.

All private mushroom pickers must cut their mushrooms in half in the field to indicate they are not for commercial sale.

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Natural Resources & Environment Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter for The Missoulian.