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.
LEGAL ACTION FORCES U.S. FOREST SERVICE TO SUSPEND PERMITS
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.
HARVESTERS, FOREST SERVICE AT ODDS OVER MUSHROOMS
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.
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