Morel mushroom rush draws harvesters to Yukon
Many make money on morels while First Nation not happy with litter left behind
In an echo of the territory's 19th century gold rush, hundreds of mushroom pickers have descended on the Carmacks, Yukon, area to harvest morels, a mushroom prized by gourmets that grows one year after a forest fire.
Jan Polak has come all the way from the Czech Republic.
"I was looking on Craigslist for some job in the gold business and instead of that, I found this is much better," he said.
- LISTEN: Click the link on the left to hear CBC Yukon's Cheryl Kawaja's radio documentary
Pickers have come from all over the Yukon, Canada and Europe and makeshift camps have popped up in several spots along the Robert Campbell highway.
Lorna Janas one of many buyers set up, says it's the price that's drawing people this year.
She pays $12 a pound for morels — more than twice as much as pickers were getting a few years ago.
"We're swamped," she says. "We buy right until 3 a.m., a couple thousand pounds a night."
Polak says he figures he's making about $400 a day.
"It's still not my dream job but it's much better than other jobs I did before," he says.
Rudy Van Johnson says he heard about the Yukon harvest on the internet and drove up from Vancouver. He says it's a tough slog.
"Twenty kilometres on the trail, not counting the bush walk," he says. "You got to be strong. Not made for someone who's got a weak mind."
Johnson estimates he's making about $500 a day picking morels.
But the Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation is not happy about the mushroom rush.
Some of the mushrooms are found on the First Nation's land and executive director Ed Schultz says too many pickers are trespassing and making a mess.
"They're not very diligent about picking up after themselves and they're leaving garbage all over the countryside," he says. "Our First Nation administration lands office is working collaboratively with the conservation officers to go out there and start dealing with the situation because it's unacceptable."
Schultz says for now, only Northern Tutchone citizens are permitted to harvest mushrooms on First Nation lands. He wants the trespassers and litterbugs fined.
At the end of the day, buyer Lorna Jana and her crew pack up what they’ve purchased from today’s pickers.
It’s about $60,000 worth of morels that will be trucked to Whitehorse, then flown to Vancouver and beyond.
And she says this is what will be like well into the summer.