Special Issue, November 2002
Mushrooms and Forest Ecology
Published about twice a year from
by Herman Brown
Back to SPECIAL ISSUES
From David Bartolotta:
I've never subscribed to the notion that my
picking mushrooms has a
negative effect on ecology. It seems to be forgotten (even by the
Sierra Club) that Homo-sapiens (us) are also forest critters. The
concept of living in heated/air-conditioned buildings with great comfort
is not a natural surrounding. We just happen to have very clever (or
not) nesting techniques. Most of our species' existence was housed in
caves, like many other critters. We have foraged for food for many
thousands of years. Markets are a recent quirk for us.
Cultivation/farming has decimated millions of acres of prime forest
land, so that ONLY homo-sapiens can have ample food. The
habitat/food-source of other animals is completely destroyed by our
farms. I am not suggesting that our farms are not good, or that we
shouldn't have them; I suggest only that farming (which benefits ALL of >
us) does much more ecological destruction than going on a walk in the
forest to collect a basket of mushrooms.
We are told (by organized international nature clubs) that our mere
footprints will compress and damage forest duff. My footprints (heavy
as they are) may compress the duff, but I don't feel they do damage.
Walking in the forest is part of the natural scheme of things. Bear,
deer/elk/moose etc. break up the duff more than I do, yet there is no
program to keep them out of the forest.
There are, of course, numbskulls who go into the forest and ransack an
area, leaving beer cans and trash behind. I indeed consider this
damaging and wrong. However, most folks will use the forest as a place
of beauty and find a foraged meal, just like our ancestors did for
thousands of years. I don't feel bad that I've taken a mushroom from
another deserving forest animal. The fungi are part of my natural diet
as well as other species. There is no reason to think that
should be eliminated from our diets. All that "wild" food is
our species alive.
Thanks for taking the time to read this.
- David Bartolotta
From Steven Pencall:
>I've never subscribed to the notion that my picking mushrooms has a
>negative effect on ecology. It seems to be forgotten (even by the
>Sierra Club) that Homo-sapiens (us) are also forest critters.
Thanks for taking the time to write down your thoughts, David! They were
timely, on target, and oh so politically incorrect!
It has become increasingly evident to me and many other observers that
of the supposedly mainstream environmental groups have become *intensely*
hostile to mushroom picking, or any form of wild food gathering, to say
nothing of hunting or fishing. They even have a bee under their bonnets
about geocaching, whatever that is. It is apparent that if you are not an
adherent of their received wisdom they do not want you out in the woods
Unfortunately, this ideology/theology has totally pervaded many of the
land management agencies to our great and enduring cost. Many of the more
experienced MSSF members will recall the unsuccessful effort to maintain
collecting access to the parks of the East Bay Regional Park District in
the early '90's. The following vignette from Mike Boom will suffice to
illustrate the mindset:
"Imagine my surprise, then, to find that the Sierra Club sent a
representative to the EBRPD meeting to speak against mushroom picking,
and--not content to stop there--to paint a picture of mushroom pickers as
environmental despoilers bent on destroying the beautiful East Bay
parks. I got to listen to David Tam break into histrionic tears as he
contemplated the terrible ruin we'd leave in our wake: 'You can't let them
do this. The environment is nobody's to touch!'"
We too, down in Southern California, have had our fill of this most
gaggle of zealots. In 1999 our four Southern California National Forests
(Angeles, Cleveland, Los Padres and San Bernardino) were collectively sued
by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) for allegedly failing to
protect endangered plants and animals. This group does not lead hikes or
sponsor political activism on behalf of the environment. Their only
activity is suing land management agencies for allegedly not protecting
environment. They have been very successful because the agencies are
always afraid to go to trial and they invariably settle out of court
the CBD pretty much whatever they ask for--including paying the CBD's
expenses--KA CHING! The CBD always stipulates reduced public access to the
public lands that were the subject of the suit in their settlement
The Forest Service settled the CBD lawsuit in 2000 on terms very favorable
to the CBD's demands. This had profound and unwelcome repercussions for
the mycological societies here in Southern California, LAMS and SDMS. For
many years the Cleveland National Forest has been the only one of the four
Forests to require permits for mushroom collection. This must be due to
some quirk of the management in this particular Forest. The other Forests
have made it clear that they don't feel that processing collecting permits
for mushrooms is worth their time. In view of the quantity of mushrooms
available for harvest 99.5% of the time the three non-permit Forests have
made a rational decision.
Anyway, the lawsuit settlement stipulated that the Cleveland National
Forest, and ONLY Cleveland MUST develop a plan to regulate collection
of forest products. Why did they require this of the Cleveland and not
the other Forests? Well, I believe it had something to do with the
collection permits we had been required to obtain from Cleveland. I am
sure that the permits were part of the records the CBD's attorneys obtained
through pre-trial discovery. When they saw 15 years of permits for
mushroom collecting they must have said "Hmm, there seems to be a lot
mushroom collecting going on in Cleveland National Forest. Maybe we should
do something to try to stop it." Never mind that no species of
mushrooms are known to occur on any of the four National Forests.
The upshot was that Cleveland National Forest did not grant any new
for mushroom collecting during 1999 and throughout most of 2000. This
meant that LAMS and SDMS were unable to legally sponsor forays on that
National Forest during that time. Of course the CBD's effort to stop
mushroom collecting was essentially pointless because individuals
to collect without permits as they have done for many years. The ONLY
thing they stopped was the educational and scientific activity that goes
during group forays.
The take-home lessons are these:
Many of these groups are more interested in symbolic gestures that play
well with their supporters rather than concrete measures that genuinely
protect the environment.
They really don't care who is damaged by their actions.
- Collecting permits obtained from government agencies create a paper
record that can be used against you later by an activist group.
- Steven Pencall
From Lori Hubbart:
Thanks to Steven Pencall, for mentioning "geocaching" which I
never heard of
before. I'll research it.
Yes, ecosystem damage from wild harvesting can happen, and is a valid
Does it automatically make me hostile to mushroom pickers and other
because I also believe that humans belong in the woods - that we are part
nature. There is a big difference between a wild area with which people
and a wild area that has been trashed by people. Many scientists and
environmentalists believe we have a need to be out there foraging in the
it's hardwired into our brains. It's just that there are so very many of
days. We need more public lands with different management objectives.
As for agency land managers, I guess I'm cynical, but many of them are
interested in the effects of human actions on the natural landscape, and
in simplifying their own jobs. They want to "manage" the
wildlands and those
visit there just as some medical personnel want to "manage"
patients rather than
actually care for them.
From Greg Jirak:
I think it completely clear that Homo sapiens is "natural" and
historically an important member of many ecological communities.
My motivation in starting this thread was to change the focus from
commercial/non-commercial picking to ecology. Whether sold or consumed
directly, whatever impact there is on a local ecosystem does not depend
upon what is done with the harvest.
What is important are the various types of impact, and their
magnitude. First, it seems clear that we poorly understand all of the
different types of impact that mushroom picking might have, and poorly
understand how each impact affects the local ecosystem. Our understanding
is also poor with respect to how the magnitude of each impact varies with
different intensities of harvest.
One of the great things about the MSSF email list is the amount of factual
information that gets dispersed. Recently we've seen references to
information indicating that picking, under certain circumstances, is
beneficial to the fungus itself, and other references that indicate the
contrary. Sharing such references, as well as our personal experience in
the field will help us understand the situation better.
I think it important to focus on the effects of the intensity of
harvest. We must also consider cumulative impact - what is the effect of
harvesting the same area over time? It is not unreasonable to expect that
moderate picking might not have a significant negative impact, but that
intense clean sweeps, repeated over time, might.
Note that consideration of these issues does not imply that people are not
a natural part of the ecosystem. However, just like plagues of locusts,
large populations of humans intensively harvesting any natural resource
have a material cumulative negative impact on the ecosystem. Just because
we're natural doesn't imply that our activities have no negative
impact. It is "natural" for large populations of consuming
move into relatively unpopulated areas, and then have a negative impact on
that area. Some theorize that large mammals were extirpated in North
America by an increasing population of Homo sapiens following the end of
the last ice age. Such extirpation was a natural process, but the mammals
are still gone.
I think it important for us to consider how we, as members of a rapidly
increasing population, can use and enjoy our environment in a way that
encourages its future viability. As members of MSSF we should use the best
available science, and our own anecdotal field observations, to see that
both recreational and commercial picking don't negatively impact our
friends, or the ecological niches that each requires to survive and
flourish. I think it natural for humans to use their magnificent brains to
figure out how not to destroy the organisms they cherish.
Cheerio, and thanks for a great discussion.
From Lynn Marsh:
Greg, Perhaps you could use your considerable analytical energy to find
exactly why Italians in Tuscany have been picking Porcini in the same area
for 500 years without negative impact. I am sure the data is out there
- Lynn Marsh
From Laurence Stickney:
The "belief" that heavy impact may have an adverse impact on the
appearance of favored mushroom crops is a poor substitute for absolute
that this is so.
Before our Society was formed 52 years ago, B. edulis gathering along the
northern California coast was done by the pick-up truckload week after
San Franciscans of Italian heritage every Fall. This can be considered
unreliable anecdotal by some, but real old timers, like Sal Billeci, our
President, who was a valued friend of mine for more than 20 years, dying
age of 93 a few years ago, often attested to the Italian community's
for collecting and drying huge amounts of edulis to store for year 'round
I'm sure he wasn't gilding some lily. It was quite true.
Efforts to have Johnny-come-lately land managers accept this fact have
proved fruitless because they have no personal experience with anyone who
gathering long before these youngsters were born, so we endure the faulty
undue restrictions they in their absolute ignorance devise.
They are not doing any better away from their counterparts in Oregon about
David Arora spoke so eloquently here a few days ago, edited and underlined
...In the Crescent Lake area of Oregon near where the recent NAMA foray
held (Diamond Lake), large areas designated as spotted owl habitat or bald
eagle nesting habitat are closed to picking, as though this was in any way
germane to birdlife safety. Nesting in September? In open areas, Rangers
prohibited the picking of matsutake before Sept. 15. This year the picking
best at the end of August, and by Sept. 15 much of the crop was wormy
it had been in the ground so long. So their policies made it economically
unviable for many. A week ago most pickers were making about $30 - $70 for a
full day's pick. Rangers were searching pickers' backpacks and citing
who had a matsie button that was less than 1½" long OR whose cap
was less than
1½" broad. The original intent of this size regulation was to discourage
people from disturbing the ground too much. But even the most conscientious
pickers sometimes pop out undersized buttons, because it's very difficult
measure them while they're still in the ground - they could have a cap
of 1¾" inch but a stem that's less than 1½" (making them
illegal), etc. To
accurately measure them while they're still in the ground would require
more disruption to the ground than picking them! But instead of citing
with an extraordinarily high percentage of undersized buttons -- something
can be determined at a quick glance -- law enforcement is practicing zero
tolerance, measuring individual mushrooms and using it as a reason to sort
through pickers' belongings, camps, cars, etc. There is also a policy of
forcing pickers, if they buy a picking permit, to camp in a huge, crowded
of 500 or more people. Pickers are not allowed to camp off by themselves,
a regular campground, as can recreational forest users. So pickers, if
want to camp by themselves or in a campground, must NOT buy a permit and
illegally. Or they can buy a permit and camp illegally. Hence a steady
of rangers and troopers checking people's camps ... There's an NGO there
funded by the Ford Foundation, etc.. Its newsletter is peppered with
like "forest workers" (instead of pickers), and
They probably mean well, it's just that they seem to miss the point of
out there as opposed to working elsewhere.
Lynn Marsh's latest message lends more credence to my testimony.
Mushrooms can take care of themselves so long as trees are left to grow
their habitat not covered over with macadam. Predators of all kinds only
to spread spores further afield.
From David Bartolotta:
My only concern is that everything has an impact on ecology. Each time
a bird eats a rodent, there is an impact. This is unfortunate for the
rodent and his family, but very fortunate for the hungry bird. Ecology
is constantly changing, no matter what we do. It is absolutely
impossible for an ecological system to remain constant for even a
second. Every time a critter (including us) moves in the forest there
is an ecological change in some manner. I don't think that the change
is either good or bad. It just IS. In a perfect world humans would
forage what they can use and leave the forest in good condition.
However, humans don't always do this. This is evident by the way many
humans forage for money in cities. Again, as others have stated, there
are groups that take up residency and decimate an area of the forest. I
don't know what to say about that kind of situation. I also don't know
what to say about feral pigs. My heart tells me that they are not a
benefit to the health of a forest, but my intellect tells me that this
is the opinion of a human. The feral pig benefits greatly and would
have an opposite view from mine.
So, I remain believing that taking a walk in the forest for some shrooms
and greens for a salad is a normal and natural thing to do. I do
believe that the planet Earth can provide for everyone. We simply must
respect the forest ecosystem for the living thing that it is.
David T. Bartolotta
From Dan Long:
David, you started this! Great point you made, Lynn Marsh! Larry- my vote
for you to write a book or series of books on your personal observations,
are all waiting. When I see your name on an e-mail, I reach for my
I think the thing that grates on me the most is the implication that I do
not know how to treat my (and yours) environment. I guess I'm a little
perturbed that I pay the salaries of EBMUD and the Forest Service etc., and
have no voice. I bet I gave money to the Sierra Club because I'm still
getting their junk mail. All these guys are immoveable objects. The money,
the political clout, the ignorance of the general public, it's a stacked
Tell them what they want to hear, then do what you want. It's O.K. Don't
feel guilty! That's the way it is. When you are coming out of the woods
you see a green truck parked next to your car, turn around and go back.
Don't think that the apologetic look on your face will make them
and forgive you! Ha! About the only way EBMUD knows that you are a
is spotting your car parked where cars aren't usually parked. Use your
phone and have someone pick you up at a designated spot! If you get
lie through your teeth that you didn't know it was illegal, even if you
standing next to a sign that says it is!
In closing, I'd like to thank all the agencies and land owners for putting
up barbwire fences and signs to keep everybody out of my mushroom fields,
it's working! I will do repairs as I come across them, and I am truly
"Badges? We don't need no stinkun badges" - Some guy in a Lee
Marvin western some years ago
"To live outside the law you must be honest" - Bob Dylan
From Greg Jirak:
At the risk of raising ire, I do want
to remind everyone that all mushroom picking, whether for fun or profit,
affects the ecology of the place picked.
Regardless of who, or for what
reason, fungal fruitifications are picked, such picking affects the local
ecological niche. Fungi are used by many organisms, not just humans. Small
mammals, macro invertebrates, and insects all depend on the fruiting
bodies of fungi for food. The entire ecological food web includes fungi.
This discussion list often focuses on
the impact to the fungi, but, I fear, often ignores the broader ecological
impact. The fungi might not be negatively impacted by intense picking, but
other organisms which depend on the fungi might...
It is the usual trip. Don't pick
everything in sight, and leave something for everyone else, including all
the other critters.
From David Arora:
If Greg feels better leaving mushrooms
behind for the animals that's fine with me (I am an animal when it comes
to mushrooms). But I do object to being told this is desirable,
necessary or environmentally correct behavior because this ideology has
already permeated policy-making agencies to our detriment. It has
become the underpinning for a host of regulations that are not backed by
science but that hurt people nevertheless, and incite environmental
backlash, making it all the harder, when some aspect of human behavior
really needs to be altered, to get people to believe that it ought to be,
and then elicit their cooperation so that it can be.
Greg's missive is also disturbing because
it overlooks some basic realities. First, there are already controls in
place that limit the number of mushrooms we can remove from nature. Whereas guns make it much easier to kill large mammals than five thousand
years ago, and drift nets and sonar enable one fishing boat to catch vast
numbers of fish, mushroom hunters are still finding mushrooms pretty much
the way they always have, "one step at a time, over moss
and through ferns." Except for having cars which help us to
spread out more, we have not advanced much technologically in our pursuit.
Oh, I see these cute little knives with the brush at one end being sold at
mycological gatherings, but they only help you clean mushrooms (and not
very well), not find them. For that, we still have to use our hands, our
eyes, our feet, our wits. There is also a physical limit on what we
can carry, and most of us carry out quite a bit less.
Second, the number of frequently picked
mushroom species -- a dozen, maybe twenty -- is very, very small
compared to the number of species in nature. It is difficult for me
to imagine a smaller life form, or one that cannot travel large distances,
evolving a dependency on as transitory and unpredictable a food source as
a single species of mushroom. Have dramatic die-offs of a
wildlife species been noted where lack of a specific mushroom species has
been implicated? If so, Greg, please let us know! I suppose it is
possible, but is it too much to ask for some facts?
PLEASE tell us the name of this species that has evolved to depend on a
single kind of fleeting, unpredictable resource. Then we can
actually talk about something real instead of something imaginary.
Show us that this
organism doesn't just go and eat another kind of mushroom (like a squirrel
or slug), and that it is not able to find the mushrooms before we do (deer
and elk sure can!). Assure us that the mushroom that it
depends on and that
we are picking does not now occur at artificially high levels as does the
Pacific Northwest chanterelle (Cantharellus formosus), which favors
second-growth Douglas-fir. And tell us about all the public places
and private lands where picking is prohibited and/or people don't go - is
this organism there? If it's thriving in those places, then why do
we need to be so concerned about it elsewhere, and if it isn't, then
why isn't it? Is the species itself really threatened, or is it just
individuals of the species that will suffer from our picking, just
as individual bacteria will suffer if, by picking mushrooms, there are
somewhat fewer rotten mushrooms in the forest? If you have evidence
that this organism is in serious decline, then show us that it is being
put at risk primarily by mushroom hunters and not by other causes.
Then tell us what mitigating measures are desirable. Finally, make
the case - and I don't see this done often -- that it is better for
society, for biodiversity, and for the future of the environmental
movement, to mitigate for this organism than not to mitigate for it.
Some years ago in a national forest in
Oregon, while carrying a basket of hedgehog mushrooms, I was accosted by a
ranger. He informed me that on that district there was a 5-pound
limit per day for personal use and only three picking days allowed per
month (Another way to accomplish what Greg proposes, by the way, is
for everyone to limit themselves to, say, two hours of mushroom hunting a
week.) When I told him I was affiliated with Oregon State
University and was not familiar with a study showing that any level of
picking would negatively impact mushrooms, he backpedaled and said the
rule was there because of concerns for wildlife and "hundreds"
of other, smaller creatures. At a subsequent meeting with his superiors,
these concerns were repeated. In fact, what they told me could have
been lifted, almost verbatim, from Greg's letter.
The operative word in this ideology is the
same word that appears in Greg's letter: MIGHT. At GGNRA hearings several
years ago, the Native Plant Society made an impressive display of MIGHT
while vehemently opposing the picking of any mushrooms in the Presidio,
even though the pine forest there was planted by humans and San
Franciscans had been picking mushrooms there for many years. They
did not offer any evidence of detrimental impact, nor did they act as if
they needed to. The key words in their presentation were MIGHT and
its cohorts COULD POSSIBLY and MAY BE.
Public officials tend to become defensive
when you ask them to cite studies showing that mushroom picking has
adverse effects on mushrooms because they can't. So the typical
response - and this was true at the state park hearings some years
back -- is to say, "We have concerns for OTHER organisms too."
In other words, though they occupy the scientific low ground (in their
case better characterized as a swamp) they try to seize the moral high
ground by being concerned about ALL organisms in contrast to us, the
mushroom hunters (who are, by implication, a single issue group that
cannot see the forest for the mushrooms). Of course, to do this they
must quickly and repeatedly invoke the mighty MIGHT. Apparently it
doesn't take anything more than one CONCERN plus two MIGHTS to make a
regulation, leave all facts at the door, thank you. Result: picking
was banned in all but one state park despite a phrase in the state park
code specifically exempting mushrooms and berries from the "Don't
If we go around urging each other not to
pick x amount of mushrooms because of what MIGHT happen, how can we not
expect management agencies to do the same? Once you start urging
others to act purely out of your concerns, without evidence, then don't be
surprised when agencies adopt and multiply those concerns, without
evidence. It's a very slippery rope, or slope - in which, as Steven
Pencall shows, we can eventually find ourselves at the bottom, in a
heap, without any legal access to mushrooms anywhere. I don't
want moral environmental police snooping around the forests citing me for
leaving none or one mushroom when, in their opinion, it MIGHT have been
better if I had left two. I don't want the road to jail to be
paved entirely with somebody else's MIGHTs and COULD POSSIBLYs -- Do
-- David Arora
From Peter Werner:
An interesting topic.
I agree - a lot of regulation is based on a
dated paradigm the defines the state of "natural" as the
complete lack of human impact, and defines humans out of the natural world
entirely. It also envisions ecosystems existing in a kind of static
"balance of nature", rather than the dynamic, evolving,
ever-changing flux that in which all ecosystems exist,
regardless of human intervention. This paradigm also ignores the fact that
many of the things we do to "protect" the forest, such as fire
suppression, are in fact interventions that alter the very makeup of an
Intelligent natural resource management is
a great deal more complex than simply walling an area off and deeming it
"natural". It involves some very real choices about what course
you want the ecosystem to take and what activities will further that
course, hinder it, or make very little difference. Regulation needs to
based on these considerations, not silly
ideas on whether an activity is "natural" or not.
If the goal is to preserve forests full of
healthy trees, I really think that mushroom harvesting is one of those
things that makes very little difference. There have been a number of
studies on the subject so far, and none seem to show any significant
impact on the mushrooms themselves or the associated trees. Of course,
these studies are pretty far from
exhaustive and can't be considered proof that mushroom harvesting has
little impact in all forests, nor have all possible impacts (such as the
effect on the food web) been studied.
To a large degree, we have to look at parts
of the world, like Europe and East Asia, where mushrooms have been
gathered from the woods for centuries. Are mushroom harvests or forest
health declining in those areas? If such declines are taking place, is
there some other obvious cause, like acid rain? So far, the evidence that
centuries of mushroom gathering in otherwise healthy forests is somehow
hurting the forest is practically nil.
David Arora makes a very good point:
>It has become the underpinning for a host of regulations that are not
>by science but that hurt people nevertheless, and incite environmental
>making it all the harder, when some aspect of human behavior really
needs to be
>altered, to get people to believe that it ought to be, and then elicit
>cooperation so that it can be.
Very true - if environmental protection is
about barring people from any meaningful interaction with wildlands,
beyond staying on the trail and being in awe of some kind of
"experience of nature", real environmental protection is bound
to suffer. Firstly, because people will come to deeply resent the actions
of designated or self-appointed environmental
protectors (and we can see plenty of that in this discussion). Also,
there's the fact that actually getting some direct benefit from wildlands
(fish, game, berries, mushrooms, or whatever) gives people a greater
interest in the health of those wildlands. Remove those benefits and
people will simply have one less reason to take action to maintain
Lori Hubbart writes:
>I, for one, would have to see more factual information about the
>situation. One must remember that European forests are very
>ours, and have a very different history of human use. The goals
>forested lands would not be the same as for ours. Can't say
more, since I
>don't know enough about conditions over there.
How different are European forests, really? They generally aren't as
extensive as North American forests and have coexisted with large human
populations for much longer. Still, when one gets away from areas of north
central Europe that have been devastated by acid rain, the forests are
generally quite healthy. If they've been able to maintain healthy
forests near large human populations over many centuries, that could be a
sign that they're doing something right, and that maybe those of us in the
New World don't have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to forest
Anyway, we're preaching to the choir on
this. Have there been any recent attempts to engage other environmental
groups or public agencies on this issue and change their mindset about
From Ken Litchfield:
If you take our present moment in history
and geologic time as a snapshot there is nothing more sacred about it than
there is any other frame in the film of time going back to the immediate
past of the last few hundred thousand years of waves of ice ages and
intermediate balmy periods.
Just yesterday it was the period of 40 to
10 thousand years ago that saw the extermination by climate change and
barbecue of huge lumbering masses of flesh that browsed and grazed the
realm. Would you think that a herd of
mammoths tippytoed through the duff when their foray traipsed through a
forest? How much human disturbance does one mammoth tippytoe equal?
Would a mammoth tusk or a megatherium claw more delicately pluck a porcini
What kind of now extinct monster cubenski
fed at the buffet of a mammoth plop? Would it have provided the
"first" peoples of the human species with the divinitory
knowledge of the carnivorous famine that would soon force the introduced
human species to balance their megafauna hunting technology and omnivorous
diet with smaller, fleeter herbivores and scrounge the forest for more
materials from the floral and fungal kingdoms? It would take a few
thousand years, plenty of time to go extinct or adapt to elk droppings,
for these and other poop fungi to come upon European bovine patties with a
comparable volume they once enjoyed.
But what about all that duff disturbance
that the megafauna used to provide for the adapted native fungi? Would the
grizzly bears and grizzly humans remaining suffice? And when the grizzly
bears were exterminated for a hundred years and subdivisions subdivided
the mycorrhized forest connections would a pack of European feral pigs
make as much disturbance as one long gone grizzly? What sort of now
extinct or readapted monster fungal fruiting might attract a multiton
herbivore to spread its spores? How many puny foraging humans poking
around in the duff does it take to equal the disturbance by how many pigs,
grizzlys, megatheriums, or mammoths?
Can you imagine a Sacramento valley where
ducks blackened the sky when they took flight? The environment in
California and much of the United States has been in such a state of human
species influenced flux for the last two
centuries it would be absurd to take any one moment and say this is the
"natural" state of affairs. Whatever humans do when acting en
mass as a civilization is not the same as when behaving in the "old
ways" of foraging culture that the forest is adapted for.
Mushroom hunters are fruit pickers. They
don't bulldoze trees and terrain for vineyards and developments. They
don't suck down the water table that provides the soil moisture for the
overlying land in the parched summer. They don't spray agricultural
pesticides and fungicides into the environment. Any one of these does far
more quantifiable damage than all the benefits provided by mushroom
hunters, individual and commercial, in the whole region. The people behind
the interests that perpetrate these actions, however, have far more clout
to defend themselves against the sell out environmental groups that are
cannibalizing their own constituencies with their alienating prohibitions.
It is far better to have mushroom pickers out using and enjoying the
forest where they can monitor and observe it. Who better to have the knowledge
to make the observations about what is happening fungally than people who
know and can observe fungi? With tourism, hunting, fishing, birding, etc.
they can also provide a real and sustainable economic alternative to clear
cutting the forest just for lumber or bulldozing for vineyards or other
monocultured agricultural products.
- Ken Litchfield.
From Steven Pencall:
>Yes, ecosystem damage from wild harvesting can happen, and is a valid
>Does it automatically make me hostile to mushroom pickers and other
>foragers? No, because I also believe that humans belong in
the woods - that we are part of
>nature. There is a big difference between a wild area with which
>interact and a wild area that has been trashed by people. Many
>environmentalists believe we have a need to be out there foraging in
the woods -
>it's hardwired into our brains. It's just that there are so very
many of us these
>days. We need more public lands with different management
I have never denied that environmental damage cannot occur (raking is the
obvious case) but in most instances it is more theoretical than actual.
There may be *few* places such as Salt Point or Land's End where it
*might* be possible to make a case for a very limited effect, but in most
other places where the picking pressure is less intense, the net
effect is infinitesimal except, of course, if someone beats you to your
You have to understand that the REAL
opposition to mushroom collection comes NOT from its real or alleged
environmental effects but it is rooted in a mind-set that regards humans
as alien to the "natural environment"--whatever that is.
It is essentially a dogmatic and mystical belief that human beings should
pass through the world as though there were a pane of glass between them
and everything that is "natural". To me, there is
something kind of creepy about an ideology that demands that we be ghosts
in order to be "environmentally correct". Halloween should
all year. Re-read the words of David Tam that I quoted in my earlier
>As for agency land managers, I guess
I'm cynical, but many of them are less
>interested in the effects of human actions on the natural landscape,
>interested in simplifying their own jobs. They want to
"manage" the wildlands and
>those who visit there just as some medical personnel want to
>rather than actually care for them
Actually they are most interested in PRESERVING their jobs. There is
a symbiotic, some might say incestuous, relationship between land managers
and many environmental groups. The activists lobby for increased
legal authority and more acreage to be added to the agency domain.
In turn, the managers manage according to the standards set by their most
ardent advocates. Any manager who does not talk the talk and walk
the walk will quickly and publicly-- be denounced as
"anti-environmental", resulting in the destruction of his or her
reputation and career.
The (il)logical extreme of simplifying
their jobs would be the total exclusion of the public from parks.
While the managers might enjoy having preserves all to themselves, they
recognize that this would be politically unacceptable. However, the
tendency of managers to regard themselves as somehow "entitled"
to be above the rules that apply to others is undeniable. To cite
one example out of many, there are persistent reports that EBRPD staff
have been involved in picking and even sales of mushrooms, chiefly
chanterelles, found in EPRPD parks.
I also believe that another factor which
has been very disadvantageous to us is the prevailing mycophobia in
American culture. A few cracks in the wall have appeared in the last
two decades, but we still stand apart from most of the culture in our
mycophilia, including many environmentalists and land managers.
Since many people still regard mushroom collecting (and mushroom
collectors) as somehow deviant that makes it more acceptable to stigmatize
and discriminate against our avocation. Many land managers treat
mushroom collecting far more harshly than activities with demonstrably
greater environmental impact, such as mountain biking. I will grant
you that mountain bikers are more numerous and better organized than
mycologists but I don't believe that accounts for ALL of the disparity in
treatment. I wrote about the influence of mycophobia in an editorial
in the February 1996 issue of the Spore Print of the Los Angeles
Mycological Society. The article is no longer online but I would be
happy to send it to you if you would like to read it.
All the best,
- Steven Pencall
From Lori Hubbart
Thanks for your thoughtful reply! I
think there needs to be much more research on fungi and ecology, rather
than just taxonomy. That goes for the study of other life forms,
Hard to believe that environmental groups
still believe humans are not part of nature - the old "pristine
wilderness" model. As outdated as that notion is, it's
certainly possible that some agency people still cling to it.
some interesting and useful examples of "managed wild
landscapes," so it's a question of degree - how much of what kind of
human intervention is appropriate where.
I'm thinking now about a way of looking at
habitats in terms of degrees of wildness, but I wouldn't want to get too
formal with it. Urban and suburban groups - Friends of various local
creeks or canyons - are doing some great habitat reclamation work,
replanting local native plants, re-contouring creeks, etc. This is
more rightly called "rehabilitation" than
"restoration" but at any rate provides a good model for
"sort of wild" public lands used by both people and wildlife.
One can hope that mushrooms will return to these spots eventually.
- Lori Hubbart
From Mike Boom:
Wow! What an interesting thread I missed
out on by being away for a few days. Allow me to straddle the fence a
First, I agree that with more and more
humans on the planet we have to be careful what activities we engage in en
masse. To put it crudely, if 6 billion humans fart simultaneously it's a
global climatic event. And with more and more humans cruising the forests
for mushrooms we have to at least be open to the fact that heavy
collecting may prove harmful in some ways for the forest.
Consider soil compaction, for example. The
most successful commercial chanterelle picker I know in northern
California has been concerned for years that regularly tramping to the
same spot for chanterelles damages the
mycelium under the path. She has enough anecdotal evidence to take
seriously. And we know for certain that paths trample down undergrowth
that might otherwise thrive. That said (moving to the other side of the
fence), I haven't personally seen problems with mushroom pickers
compacting soil unless there has been a huge crush of pickers tramping one
after another -- highly unlikely for commercial pickers, a little more
likely on big forays of beginning pickers who won't spread out.
As for mushroom removal affecting the food
chain in the forest, we really don't know what effect it has. Dennis
Desjardin, our scientific adviser, pointed out in a talk a few years ago
that the insects that eat fungi are often important parts of the diets of
birds, salamanders, and other small animals that are in turn preyed on by
larger animals such as bobcats and coyotes. It's almost impossible to set
up a scientific study that can measure the impact that removing a portion
of just a few species of mushrooms in a forest has. Nevertheless, that's
not the same as saying there is no effect. We have no scientific proof
that humans removing mushrooms *doesn't* affect some animal populations.
We just don't know.
I agree that land management policies have
been completely unreasonable for the most part about mushroom picking.
They're rarely based on science and are too often a knee-jerk reaction to
the thought of consumptive use of forest resources whether it's truly
harmful or not. And I feel strongly that any environmental damage that
might be caused by mushroom picking is a tiny drop in a very large bucket
that includes logging and housing development. It's a worthwhile and
minuscule price to pay for committed protection of forests by citizens
intimately involved with those forests.
That said, I don't want to be as closed-minded as the typical land
manager. If evidence does come down the road one of these days that
what we love to do harms the forest that supports what we love to do, I
hope we can accept that evidence and alter our behavior accordingly. If we
can't, we only hurt ourselves.
Until then, let's pick and enjoy!
- Mike Boom
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