I used to look forward to this time of year with great anticipation. I’d wait for the first fall rains and then head into the forest to indulge in picking chanterelle mushrooms a week later. At first, I would spin my wheels a lot. It took many years of hiking through the forest to accumulate a few good spots.
I didn’t pick for Patti and myself particularly, although we generally made a batch of soup from them, or fried a few in butter with dinner. The objective was to get out in the cool fresh air after the heat of the summer. With the fall colours and the lower angle of the sun, the scenery is terrific.
But things seem to be changing in the Chanterelle patch. It is getting harder and harder to find them. I have been going to the patches I’ve found for years and they have either disappeared, or there are only a few scattered remnants of a formerly impressive patch. In addition, many excellent patches have been logged. In fact, if you take a look at the Google satellite imagery on the private forest lands all around the settle area of the Alberni Valley, it is all logged very, very heavily.
Places like the Ash River out toward Elsie Lake, on the way to Cous Creek, east of town and south into the old Franklin Division area have all been cut so much that there are only little strips of trees along creeks or lakes. These were prime picking grounds. This pushes the pickers onto fewer and fewer locations, so that few mushrooms remain to spread the spores. At one time there were four or five buyers in town. Now there is one. So it is also having an economic impact on the pickers, who are often people who really need the extra cash that the activity provides.
It doesn’t help to drive out to a location and find a gate across the access road locked, with a a couple of kilometers between you and the patch. It takes all the fun out of the excursion to pack a couple of full buckets that distance back to the vehicle.
There have also been a series of dry summers. These droughts delay the crop and reduce the quantities produced.
Despite mushroom picking being recognized as an economic activity, it is still completely unregulated and un-managed. Pickers usually are quite reluctant to reveal the locations of their patches, making it difficult to manage. But about a decade ago, some research was done on northern Vancouver Island that shed some light on what could be done. Researchers were able to identify good, medium and poor habitats for Chanterelles. It turns out that the best habitat is also precisely the kind of stands that are now being targeted for logging.
The implication is that we may never see good crops of Chanterelles again because just as the forest is reaching peak age of Chanterelle production, the Douglas Fir and hemlock stands that are 40 to 80 years old are cut.
However, research suggests that by delaying the harvest of the timber for a while, or even commercial thinning older stands, it may be possible to have crops of Chanterelles too. Let’s hope so, because there’s nothing like getting out on a fine afternoon around Thanksgiving and picking a few mushrooms to go with the feast.