Answerland: Do I need a fungi gathering permit?

Melanie Wong

Q: Do I need a permit to forage for mushrooms on U.S. Forest Service land?

A: Eagle County is drawing growing number of amateur mycologists (someone who studies fungi), particularly those who enjoy searching the mountains and forests for the edible varieties. Most of these foragers are gathering the floor-dwellers for their own dinners, and a few have wondered, “Do I need a permit to do this?”

If you’re hunting on Forest Service land, then the answer is yes — but the permit is free.

“Individuals can collect for their personal use. We consider it an ‘incidental’ use, and you can pick up to 5 gallons of mushrooms per day — that’s about two grocery bags full,” said Dave Neely, district ranger for the White River National Forest. “You do have to get a free permit, which is required for anything you’re harvesting from forest property.”

The permits help Forest Service keep track of how many people are foraging mushrooms and can be obtained at any Forest Service station. Permits have been required since 2009, but many people aren’t aware of the policy. There are signs in many areas alerting people that permits are required to harvest forest property. Neely said that applies to more obvious activities such as cutting down Christmas trees or taking aspen saplings, but it also applies to smaller scale harvesting such as gathering boughs for wreaths or mushrooms.

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The Forest Service has observed increasingly more people heading out for mushrooms, and even holding gatherings such as the Eagle Wild Mushroom and Wine Weekend, but the number of permits issued doesn’t necessarily reflect that.

In the White River National Forest, the ranger station gave out 44 permits in 2011, 26 permits in 2012, 37 permits in 2013 and 39 permits so far this year.

Paid Permits

If you’re collecting beyond personal use — say, to sell them or to hold an event where you’ll be serving the mushrooms — then you are required to apply for a different paid permit. Cost depends on how much you are selling or serving. Those interested in paid permits should contact forester Cary Green at 970-827-5160.

Neely said the Forest Service isn’t looking to restrict recreational mycologists, but that it aims to track and monitor the growing trend.

“When it starts to have an impact on the forest, that’s when we trigger the permit. At this point we’re not restricting the number of permits. We just don’t want to deplete the resources over time,” said Neely.

He points to places such as Deschutes National Forest in Oregon, where collecting maitake mushrooms has become big business.

“The collection of some of those mushrooms has become so big,” he said. “They have huge camps where international collectors are coming in and hauling out truckloads of it. It’s a huge market. Often these things don’t seem to be a problem until its popular.”

— M.W.

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