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Harvesters & Forest Service at Odds Over Mushrooms

An experienced mushroom hunter, Land said teaching the craft to the homeless and eventually creating an official trade union will give an oppressed group some much needed political clout and help get their lives on a healthy track.

Meanwhile, the Forest Service suspends harvesting permits on federal lands.

Published: October 8, 2005

By Peter Rice

Pilot Staff Writer

Anyone looking to pick mushrooms, gather firewood or harvest a Christmas tree in area national forests will have to wait and see, unless they've already secured a permit.

U.S. Forest Service District Ranger John Borton suspended the permitting Wednesday in wake of a California court ruling on Sept. 16 in which a judge ruled that the Forest Service must put such uses of the forest through a public evaluation process.

The suspension of permitting provoked immediate comment from Don Land, who has been organizing a group of nomadic mushroom hunters at a camp about ten miles up the Chetco River. He said the suspension was in response to his group.

"Any excuse will do," he said. "That is total disrespect and we will not tolerate it."

Land had been hoping to attract thousands of people to the camp. Earlier this week there were about 70, he said. He said his group would not leave.

Lee Fox, who handles law enforcement for the Forest Service locally, could not be reached for comment.

Others who make a fulltime living off the mushroom business were equally displeased.

"This ruling will probably effectively terminate my business," said Tom Way, who, with his wife Teresa, operates a mushroom buy station near Riverside Market, several miles up the Chetco River.

The Ways buy up to 1000 pounds of mushroom at their stand every day, and sell them to wholesale distributors who send the food to stores.

By Way's count, only about six people have secured seasonal permits - not nearly enough to sustain a buying operation.

"If they're not going to allow a mushroom harvest, then I don't have a job," Tom said. "I really don't know what to do at this point."

The court case, brought by several environmental groups including the Sierra Club against the Forest Service, concerns the process of how the Forest Service allows various uses of the forest.

Previously, harvesting "forest products" such as mushrooms sometimes fell under a "categorical exclusion," which exempted them from extensive public review.

But the judge, interpreting the National Environmental Policy Act, threw out those exclusions.

On Sept. 23, Forest Service head Dale Bosworth issued a letter to regional deputies ordering them to comply with the ruling.

John Williams, who works on issues surrounding special forest products such as mushrooms for the Gold Beach Forest Service office, said that the district would waste no time in completing the assessments needed to satisfy the court case and reopen harvesting. How long that will take, and whether it will all be cleared up in time for Christmas tree season, isn't clear.

Between 2003 and 2005, the Forest Service issued an annual average of 284 permits for the harvesting of firewood, and a total of 816 for mushroom harvesting. Another 309 were handed out for collecting beargrass.

Huckleberries, salal, ferns, moss and pitch are also included under the umbrella of forest products.

More information about the court case can be found online by enter into the Google search engine "Earth Island Institute v. Ruthenbeck."


In other news, authorities were dispatched to the mushroom camp Thursday night after Land called reporting a hail of gunfire nearby. A patrol deputy responding to the call was sidetracked to a drunk driving accident at the Port of Brookings Harbor and never made it to the camp.

Curry County Sheriff Sgt. John Ward said that such gunfire is common during hunting season.



Published: October 5, 2005

Click this picture to view a larger image.

Camp organizer Don Lane, right, and two mushroom campers rest Monday after a day harvesting mushrooms.
The Pilot/Joe Friedrichs

By Peter Rice

Pilot Staff Writer

If Don Land gets his way, thousands of homeless nomads will soon travel to Curry County and learn how to pick mushrooms.

Land, also known as "Dom," recently established a camp in the hills south of Miller Bar, about 10 miles up the Chetco River. So far, he said, about 75 people have showed up at the camp, though no more than 30 were on hand Monday evening when reporters paid a visit.

Land says his goal is to empower homeless people as a class.

"What we are is a divergent cultural group," he said.

An experienced mushroom hunter, Land said teaching the craft to the homeless and eventually creating an official trade union will give an oppressed group some much needed political clout and help get their lives on a healthy track. It will also help alleviate what he predicts will be a shortage of migrant labor because of tighter border controls between the United States and Mexico, he said.

At the camp, a sprinkling of tents, cars and shelters created with tarps, meals and decision making responsibilities are shared. The atmosphere is very social, almost festive. Land said violence and "hard drugs" are not allowed, and alcohol is confined to an isolated corner of the camp.

Things do get out of hand sometimes, though. Late Monday night, Land said, someone at the camp assaulted two people and was thrown out.

It's not clear if the camp will in fact attract thousands of people, but Land does have connections to people who are good at such things.

He's a member of the Rainbow Family of Living Light, a loose affiliation of nomads known for attracting tens of thousands of people to annual gatherings in national forests.

The group, which is influenced by the hippie movement, is currently having a national assembly in Illinois.

The camp off the Chetco is not an official Rainbow gathering, Land said, although the details of the camp are posted on the Rainbow web site, www.welcomehere.org. The notice reads: "Come harvest edible mushrooms outside the city of Brookings, Oregon near the Chetco River, classes on mushroom picking, and safety, good people, good vibes."

Word did get out to Michael Christ, 23, who hails from Massachusetts but has lately been traveling around the west coast. She picked her first mushrooms Monday, coming back with just over three pounds.

"It was all right," she said of the experience, but lamented that the price buyers were willing to pay had dropped from $3 per pound to $1. Land said he is working to distribute the harvest in other more lucrative channels.

Christ said she's not sure how long she might stay at the camp, preferring to take it one day at a time.

Spontaneous travel seems to play a big role in the lives of the campers. While some homeless people stay in one place, even holding regular jobs, the camp dwellers fit the term "nomad" better, and even use it themselves.

"I'm the kind of person that doesn't like to be in the same spot for very long," said Gary Margason, 19, who spent time in Selma before coming to the mushroom camp.

Some have even traveled across oceans. Benny Langfur, 24, is originally from Jerusalem, Israel. He said he has lived in forests for the last five years, and enjoys it because "It's peaceful. It's beautiful. It has animals."

Law enforcement officials seem skeptical of the group. Several, including Curry County Sheriff's Captain Allen Boice and Lt. Dennis Dinsmore, visited the camp last Thursday.

"It's a concern," said Lee Fox, who does law enforcement work for the U.S. Forest Service.

Land maintains that police and regular citizens have nothing to fear. The mushroom gatherers will simply contribute money to the local economy and then leave, probably no later than mid-December, he said.

Land himself has a criminal background. He says it includes assault and driving with a suspended license charge, but insists he's turned over a new leaf and wants to help others do the same.

There is one potentially huge complication in Land's plan: The Forest Service is considering new rules that could end the camps, or potentially end commercial mushroom harvesting completely.

John Williams, who handles mushroom hunting for the Forest Service's Gold Beach office, said the new rules are being considered because of a recent court ruling and budget cuts that make it difficult to support the camps.

Land disagrees: "They're making rules and regulations that are arbitrary and hostile," he said. "I will defy it. The harder they fight the more will come."

The fees charged for permits, he said, should be enough to cover services for the camp, such as dropping off portable toilets.

Williams said that the fees charged, currently $150 for a seasonal commercial permit, go to the federal treasury, not back to the Forest Service.

Mushroom pickers, "foodies", Mycologists, and Environmentalists Unite! 12.Oct.2005 12:04


Cemender comments:

As an anarchist, an Earth First!er, mycology (study of mushrooms) student and a part time mushroom picker, I am once again appalled at the Earth Island Institute and the Sierra Club.

I have often envisioned an alliance of professional mushroom pickers, "foodies", mycologists, and environmentalists.

Unfortunately, these groups often are at odds which each other and even within. (An unfortunate rift exists between the white lower class and immigrant populations.)

An alliance of these groups could be built to encourage the conservation of mushroom habitat i.e. limit logging, pesticide spraying, etc. on federal and state land. It is absolutely unfortunate that these corporate environmental groups have instigated a wide rift between such a potential alliance. I would like to see EF!ers and anarchists sound the voice of reason. I personally know many an anarchist EF!er and hillbilly anarchist who hunts for mushrooms for personal and family sustenance.

Logging is the principal threat to mushroom habitat. Clearcutting completely destroys mushroom habitat. Logging destroys trees which have a symbiotic relationship with many mushrooms. In addition, sand dune and other "off road motorsports" destroys mushroom habitat. Its not "just a bunch of sand", its mushroom and snowy plover (an endangered bird) habitat.

Text of the Mushroom Gathering Union Announcement 12.Oct.2005 12:10



Description: Come harvest edible mushrooms outside the city of Brookings,Oregon near the Chetco river, classes on mushroom picking, and safety, good people, good vibes,

Contact: Tom (541) 469-9115, 496-9115
Resource:  nagasakiscreams@hotmail.com

EII is doing the right thing - forest disservice isn't 12.Oct.2005 16:02


hey if you actually read the article you'd notice that in response to the EII action the forest service shut down the harvest though they certainly did not have to. I'm sure they are looking to get responses from the public like yours against the sierra club and EII.

If you're really concerned then you should call the freddies and demand they allow harvesting while they figure out the suit.

Deep Ecology 12.Oct.2005 16:57


Picking mushrooms disturbs the fragile ecology of a woodland. What's the difference between chopping down a tree and picking a mushroom? Size?

not really a mycologist 12.Oct.2005 18:03


Thought I'd point out that the tree metaphor doesn't apply here. That's only IF the shrooms are harvested correctly, the fruit is sliced off without disturbing the duff and mycelia (the "tree"). NO DIGGING! Trouble is many, especially inexperienced harvesters, are only in it for the money today and not interested in doing it the right way.

IMO mushroom harvest is a big business, but most of the bucks don't go in pickers' pockets, of course. Still, the lure of profits has provoked plenty of violence in the trees over a patch of choice Morels.

Forest Service is blowing this way out of proportion, why? 12.Oct.2005 18:26


So called 'deep ecology' is just an anti-human ideology. You'd push indigenous people out of the forest to save it? That has never EVER saved one forest. The issue is how to site people to husband resources and be linked to particular ecological areas. Only this low intensitivty stops environmental degradation from others because they are politically protecting the area from destruction.

You got to be really ideologically heartless to avoid seeing how this has never hurt anyone, and how it helps people survive, and how its politically good to have people who husband a particular resource in a non-intensive and individual and even family-based way.

I'm all for locating anyone in particular areas because the more people that husband a particular area economically, in a low intensive way, means more people who politically will stop corporate destruction of an area that fails to husband a particular area.

I think that is what the Forest Service wants: to change the dynamic of the forest use to benefit corporations that destroy it. They want to clear the low-intensive people from the land, force them into corporate jobs and dependencies (or unemployment), so that high-intensive corporate forms of destruction can move in. Forest Services that embrace corporate destruction (without husbanding) of the resouces while demoting people who would defend areas from destruction? What kind of bizarre policy is this?

I say let the mushroomers stand their ground.

If they are kept out, mushroomers should get some pro bono lawyer to sue to call attention to all the other human economic uses that the Forest Service is ignoring--roads for logging, free cattle grazing, etc. THOSE are what is destroying forests and wildlands, not mushroomers!

What a corporate plutocracy! To go after chanterelle pickers while totally ignoring corporate destructions of forest land!

They probabaly got an ideological directive from dictator Bush with the threat that their jobs are on the line, a "do it or else" sort of thing.

More to Mushrooms than Many Assume 12.Oct.2005 22:12


A lot of misinformation or assumptions here, "Picking mushrooms disturbs the fragile ecology of a woodland. What's the difference between chopping down a tree and picking a mushroom? Size?"

Picking a mushroom is akin to picking an apple. What we call mushrooms are actually the fruiting bodies (the fruit) of the Mycelium. The spores on the mushroom are like seeds. Harvesting mushrooms can spread the seeds.

The Mycelium are the vegetative part of a mushroom bearing fungus. Disturbing mycelium is akin to shopping down a tree. Shopping down a tree also destroys mycorrhizal mycelium and thus mushrooms. Mycorrhiza is the symbiotic association of the mycelium of a fungus with the roots of certain plants, such as douglas fir, conifers, beeches, or orchids.

Damage can be done to the forest floor through reckless picking methods as well as litter and trash left behind. The same can be said about many forest activities. Unintelligent activity in the forest can destroy it.

Logging is the principal threat to mushroom habitat. Clearcutting completely destroys mushroom habitat. Logging destroys trees which have a symbiotic relationship with many mushrooms. In addition, sand dune and other off road "motorsports" destroys mushroom habitat. Its not "just a bunch of sand", its mushroom and snowy plover (an endangered bird) habitat.

Intelligent pickers quickly learn to tend their patches with care. A 10-year study on the effects of harvesting chanterelles (Cantharellus formosus) by the Oregon Mycological Society (Norvell 1995) found that there was no decline in chanterelle productivity regardless of the picking method.

There is real concern that raking the forest floor in search of pine mushrooms can irreparably harm mushroom harvest, since the vegetative stage or mycelium that forms the mushrooms can be destroyed. While it is easy to learn to properly harvest them, many greedy or uninlightened folk refuse to learn.

Environmental Attorney Calls Foul Play 12.Oct.2005 23:19


"Matt Kenna, Western Environmental Law Center attorney who argued the case on behalf of environmentalists, sent letters to the Forest Service saying that's not what the ruling meant."

"It's a total overreaction," he said. "Having lost the case, they're now trying to overapply it to put us in a bad light."

This was in the follow up article I posted from the Register Guard. It seems the Forest Service is attempting to sow division!

Manufacturing Backlash - Decision Had Nothing To Do with Mushroom Picking 13.Oct.2005 12:00

NW Law Dog

Manufacturing Backlash out of a Sensible Decision

Regional Forester Linda Goodman and other Regional Foresters are misleading
the public about a decision by Federal Judge Singleton that on a California Forest. The Judge ruled that the Forest Service improperly excluded public participation on a bedrock environmental law. The public was denied the opportunity for meaningful input in their effort to protect our public lands and the communities that depend on them.

The Forest Service has no shame. They are even holding up the cutting of the National Christmas tree and claiming that the Singleton's decision forces them to do a detailed environmental analysis to permit fire wood cutting or campground repairs. The Forest Service cannot justify its claims. Small projects like getting a Christmas tree, fixing campgrounds and cutting firewood never required an environmental analysis - and that is not what concerns the public.

The problem that Judge Singleton was getting after is a result of the Healthy Forest Initiative. With the new authorities pushed under that misnamed initiative, the Forest Service has been able to cut out meaningful public input on large-scale logging projects that scientists have documented do permanent harm to Americans public lands. Judge Singleton said that the local citizens, wildlife biologists and scientists must be able to lodge their comments on salvage logging projects on public lands that stretch over two hundred and fifty acres. He said nothing about cutting Christmas trees, firewood or fixing campgrounds.

The Forest Service is trying to manufacture a backlash by misrepresenting the Court's ruling. If you just take a quick look at what post-fire logging does to burned landscapes, the truth becomes self-evident. Salvage is a term long used for scavenging the remains of abandoned ships. Salvage logging is not about healthy forests or restoring burned landscapes, it is about scavenging the forest touched by fire for live and dead trees, running tractor logging equipment across sensitive soils and in the process leaving nothing for the American public or the wildlife that call these places home. The American public is interested in true restoration of burned landscapes, and all Judge Singleton was doing was protecting all Americans' freedom to participate in our democracy.

THE DECISION HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH MUSHROOM PICKING. Call OPB, write to the Oregonian, Register Guard, Curry Pilot and call the Forest Service out for this blatant misprepresentation.

ROLL OVER JOHNNY MUIR 19.Feb.2006 11:55

The Voice Of One Crying In The Wilderness

I am so sorry Johnny Muir but they have taken your vision and replaced it with a cheap version of Animal Farm and the Sierra Club (The Pigs) have traded in their backpacks for briefcases. Your humble club has turned into nothing more than an top heavy elitist country club that makes millions off of their dues, glossy nature calanders ("printed on recycled paper"), pretenting to be the gaurdians of the earth and trying to keep people like yourself John out of the forest.
A morel mushroom and a several hundred year old spruce are two differnt things and to say cuttng one is the same as cutting another is hogwash...sorry Sierra Club...no pune intended did not mean to step on your wingtips.
If you know anything about the life cycle of mushrooms you would know that its existance is dependant on distribution of spores by being disturbed by either man, animal, or the elements. Low impact on the forest floor is very healthy for this distrubution.
The earth was creaed for mankind...not the reverse.
"I Would Give But Only To The Deserving...But The Trees In Your Orchard Say Not So...Neither Do The Flocks In You Pasture...For To Withhold...Is To PERISH".