BOISE Boise National Forest officials say they were overwhelmed by commercial mushroom pickers this year and sold three times as many commercial permits as they expected.
"We were not prepared for the sheer numbers" of morel pickers who set up camp in June, Cascade District Ranger Carol McCoy Brown told The Idaho Statesman. "We were overwhelmed. We had to kind of cut the season short."
Brown expected to sell between 300 and 500 commercial mushroom permits but ended up selling nearly 1,500, she said. To deal with the influx, forest workers set up more than a dozen portable toilets, opened campgrounds where commercial pickers were required to stay and hired two extra law enforcement officers for six weeks. The district stopped selling permits in mid-June and closed the camping spots last week.
Despite those precautions, Brown says the pickers left trash and human waste throughout the forest. Now she's working with Ron Lundquist, who owns Cougar Mountain Lodge in Cascade, to get some Boy Scout troops to pick up the pickers' bottles, cans, fast food containers and other trash as a community service project.
"The big problem is the pickers dispersed over many, many thousands of acres," she said.
The campgrounds, portable toilets and additional enforcement officers cost about $60,000, mostly covered by pickers' permit fees. Most pickers have now moved to the Payette National Forest, which is still issuing permits and has established campgrounds for mushroom harvesters.
Brown hopes to devise ways for a smoother mushroom season next year, including publication of a multilingual brochure explaining Forest Service policies.
"We had mostly non-English-speaking people," she said. "We gave out instructions on things like burying your waste and packing your trash out, but very, very few of the people were able to read those."
The price of morels paid by restaurants varies widely but generally ranged from $6 and $8 a pound this year.
Morels thrive on previously burned forest land and this year's harvest brought money into the region, said Lundquist, who serves on the area's Chamber of Commerce.
Brown said she doesn't think she'll offer commercial picking campsites next year but added that mushroom pickers will still be welcome on the public land.