Northern pickers ready for mushroom boom

A dangerous and smoky summer in the NWT might have an upside - summer 2015 could be a lucrative one for mushroom pickers. The territorial government is meeting interested pickers and helping people to prepare.

Territorial government says next summer's harvest could be worth $10 million

The N.W.T.'s record-breaking 2014 fire season might have an upside: the upcoming summer could be lucrative for mushroom pickers. 

Morel mushrooms are said to flourish in burn areas the year following a fire. Last year, they brought an estimated $1.5 million in to the territory's economy, despite a stunted harvest due to dry weather. Buyers typically pay $10 to $14 per pound for the wild mushrooms.

If the conditions are right this year, the N.W.T. government is estimating the harvest could easily be worth $10 million.

The Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment is developing a handbook and field guide for morel harvesting and is giving workshops for N.W.T. residents interested in taking part in the harvest.

In a session in Enterprise this week, pickers like Bill Harris declared their plans. 

"I'm hoping to make a few extra dollars here at this pickin'," he said. 

Others, like Shannon Patterson, said they were interested in trying them. "I might sell some, yup. But I'm definitely gonna cook some," he said. 

After the fire

Last year's summer in the NWT was exceptional for its fires. The territory saw 385 forest fires that covered 34,000 square kilometres; an area larger than Vancouver Island.

Last year several buyers came North to set up camps and buy directly from pickers.

Retired biology teacher Bruce Green says that the increased interest in morels is "good to see.

"It's a valuable resource," he says, "and if it's not harvested, then nobody benefits, and there's no harm to the environment by going and collecting 'em."

Setting up camp

Pickers can pick morel mushrooms without a permit or license on public land. Access to lands will surely be a controversial issue for First Nations in the territory. 

Last year the mushrooms thrived in parts of Yukon and inspired a rush of harvesters.

At the time Chief Eric Fairclough of the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation said that a Gold Rush of pickers had lead to some garbage and damage on the land.

"We need some guidelines so that they don’t leave here and we end up with a big mess," he said.

PIckers are being asked to know their mushrooms, and watch out for false morels. Those mushrooms are poisonous and look very similar to true morels. They can also grow in the same habitat.

The mushrooms usually appear between May and July.


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