Regulations for gathering mushrooms vary from one national forest to another, as well as on Montana school trust lands. More detailed information is available at the Forest Service's Northern Region Web site at www.fs.fed.us/r1/. Here is a look at some of the specific regulations and general information about mushrooms for each national forest and state lands:
Montana State School Trust Lands: The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation manages several thousand acres of school trust land in the Sula State Forest south of Darby. Much of the forest burned in the fires of 2000, as did other school trust tracts elsewhere in western Montana.
To accommodate commercial mushroom harvesters and generate income for the school trust, DNRC will sell permits for commercial harvesting. The permits are similar to the Forest Service permits, but are not interchangeable. Special restrictions, such as a prohibition on camping on state land, will apply. Information on state commercial harvest permits is available at Bitterroot National Forest offices. Permits are sold at the DNRC office in Hamilton, 1801 North 1st, and in Missoula, 1500 Tower.
Gathering mushrooms for personal use on state lands requires a state recreational use license, available at Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks offices, and at FWP license dealers. The license is required for everyone 12 years old and over. Maps are available from DRNC to show state lands that are closed or restricted.
Additional information is available on the DNRC Web site www.dnrc.state.mt.us/.
Bitterroot National Forest: Last summer, 307,000 acres burned in the Bitterroot forest. Officials expect about 2,000 mushroom harvesters, if conditions produce a good crop of morels, according to Rick Flock of the Darby Ranger District.
A map of the major fire perimeters outside wilderness areas is available with the forest's mushroom brochure. Each ranger district office will also have a large color map displayed on the wall showing all of the fires in the forest and their intensity. Mushroom gatherers can transpose this information onto their own forest map.
All the fires in the Bitterroot Forest outside wilderness areas, except the Blodgett fire near Hamilton, are open for commercial and personal-use harvesting. The Blodgett fire is reserved for personal-use pickers.
Personal-use permits allow an individual to pick up to five gallons of mushrooms a day (approximately two grocery bags). The permits are available free at all forest offices. Mushrooms picked for personal use must be cut lengthwise at the time of picking to differentiate them from commercial mushrooms.
Lolo National Forest: About 74,000 acres burned last summer on the Lolo forest. Most of the 240 fires were less than 10 acres in size. Commercial harvesting is allowed only in three areas of the forest - the 6,000-acre Landowner and 10,000-acre Flat Creek fires on the Superior Ranger District, and the 18,000-acre Ninemile Fire in the Ninemile Ranger District.
Personal-use permits, allowing a daily harvest of up to five gallons of mushrooms, are required only in the three commercial-picking areas. The personal-use permits are free.
Personal-use permits are not required in other burned areas of the forest, including the 4,000-acre Alpine Fire in the Ninemile Ranger District, the 28,000-acre Monture and the Spread fires near Ovando, and the 5,500-acre Alder Creek Fire in the middle Rock Creek drainage.
Maps showing the major fire perimeters in the Lolo Forest are available at forest offices, along with the Lolo Forest's Mushroom Guide brochure. The fire maps should be used in conjunction with a forest map that shows roads and other features to help determine exact locations and best travel routes.
Certain camping areas on the forest have been designated for commercial pickers.
Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest: Commercial mushroom harvesting will take place in part of the area burned by the Mussigbrod fire, between Trail Creek and Johnson Creek roads, northwest of Wisdom. Commercial permits are only available from the Wisdom Ranger Station. Commercial harvesters must camp in designated campsites.
Personal-use permits are required for harvesting mushrooms (up to five gallons daily) anywhere in the forest, including the designated commercial area. They are free and available at forest offices in Wisdom, Wise River, Deer Lodge and Philipsburg. Maps of the commercial harvest area are also available. Maps of other burned areas, which are mostly in remote, wilderness areas, aren't available. Morels picked for personal use must be sliced in half lengthwise.
Helena National Forest: Commercial harvesting is allowed only in the Cave Gulch fire area on the Helena and Townsend Ranger Districts, and the Maudlow/Toston burned area in the Townsend Ranger District. Commercial permits are available in both offices. Certain camping areas are designated for commercial harvesters.
Free personal-use permits, required everywhere in the forest for anyone over 12 years old, allow a harvest of up to three gallons of mushrooms per day, with a 14-day limit. Mushrooms harvested for personal use must be cut in half lengthwise at the time of collection.
Kootenai National Forest: Approximately 45,900 acres burned in the Kootenai forest last summer. Ten areas, covering approximately 37,000 acres, have been designated as commercial-harvest sites. Five sites are in the Yaak area, and five in the Rexford Ranger District, all in the northwest corner of the forest. Special camping areas in the forest have been designated for commercial harvesters.
Personal-use permits are required only in those commercial areas. Maps and other information are available.
If you're interested
In every Forest Service mushroom brochure is this warning:
Properly identifying mushrooms and determining whether they are edible is your responsibility. Many mushrooms are poisonous. Guidebooks can help you identify mushrooms. Several guide books and keys are available at local bookstores. Also libraries, county extension offices and mycological societies are good sources of information. The Western Montana Mycological Association has a very informative Web site at www.fungaljungal.org.