Special Issue, November 2002
Mushrooms and Forest Ecology
Published about twice a year from Greenville, California
by Herman Brown


Original Letter

Original Letter

October 21:

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 "wild" food should be eliminated from our diets. All that "wild" food is what kept our species alive.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.

- David Bartolotta


October 23:

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. <snip>

Hear! Hear!

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 many 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 for ANY reason.

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 unmerry 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 the environment. They have been very successful because the agencies are always afraid to go to trial and they invariably settle out of court giving the CBD pretty much whatever they ask for--including paying the CBD's legal expenses--KA CHING! The CBD always stipulates reduced public access to the public lands that were the subject of the suit in their settlement agreements.

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 of mushroom collecting going on in Cleveland National Forest. Maybe we should do something to try to stop it." Never mind that no species of endangered mushrooms are known to occur on any of the four National Forests.

The upshot was that Cleveland National Forest did not grant any new permits 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 continued to collect without permits as they have done for many years. The ONLY thing they stopped was the educational and scientific activity that goes on during group forays.

The take-home lessons are these:

  1. 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.
  2. They really don't care who is damaged by their actions.
  3. Collecting permits obtained from government agencies create a paper record that can be used against you later by an activist group.

- Steven Pencall

October 24:

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 concern.

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 people interact 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 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 objectives.

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, and more interested in simplifying their own jobs. They want to "manage" the wildlands and those who visit there just as some medical personnel want to "manage" patients rather than actually care for them.

...Lori Hubbart

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 can 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 organisms to 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 fungal 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.

- Greg

From Lynn Marsh:

Greg, Perhaps you could use your considerable analytical energy to find out 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 somewhere.

- Lynn Marsh

From Laurence Stickney:

The "belief" that heavy impact may have an adverse impact on the continued appearance of favored mushroom crops is a poor substitute for absolute proof 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 week by San Franciscans of Italian heritage every Fall. This can be considered unreliable anecdotal by some, but real old timers, like Sal Billeci, our first President, who was a valued friend of mine for more than 20 years, dying at the age of 93 a few years ago, often attested to the Italian community's penchant for collecting and drying huge amounts of edulis to store for year 'round use. 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 always proved fruitless because they have no personal experience with anyone who was gathering long before these youngsters were born, so we endure the faulty and undue restrictions they in their absolute ignorance devise.

They are not doing any better away from their counterparts in Oregon about whom David Arora spoke so eloquently here a few days ago, edited and underlined at my desk:

...In the Crescent Lake area of Oregon near where the recent NAMA foray was 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 was best at the end of August, and by Sept. 15 much of the crop was wormy because 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 anyone who had a matsie button that was less than 1" long OR whose cap was less than 1" 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 to measure them while they're still in the ground - they could have a cap diameter of 1" inch but a stem that's less than 1" (making them illegal), etc. To accurately measure them while they're still in the ground would require far more disruption to the ground than picking them! But instead of citing pickers with an extraordinarily high percentage of undersized buttons -- something that 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 camp of 500 or more people. Pickers are not allowed to camp off by themselves, or in a regular campground, as can recreational forest users. So pickers, if they want to camp by themselves or in a campground, must NOT buy a permit and pick illegally. Or they can buy a permit and camp illegally. Hence a steady stream of rangers and troopers checking people's camps ... There's an NGO there funded by the Ford Foundation, etc.. Its newsletter is peppered with buzzwords like "forest workers" (instead of pickers), and "multicultural harvester workforce."

They probably mean well, it's just that they seem to miss the point of being 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 and their habitat not covered over with macadam. Predators of all kinds only serve to spread spores further afield.

- Larry Stickney

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 is for you to write a book or series of books on your personal observations, we are all waiting. When I see your name on an e-mail, I reach for my dictionary. Macadam?

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 I 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 deck.

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 and 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 understand and forgive you! Ha! About the only way EBMUD knows that you are a violator is spotting your car parked where cars aren't usually parked. Use your cell phone and have someone pick you up at a designated spot! If you get caught, lie through your teeth that you didn't know it was illegal, even if you are 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 grateful.

"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 Pick" rule.

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 you?

-- David Arora

September 26:

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 ecosystem.

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 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.

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
healthy ecosystems.

Lori Hubbart writes:

>I, for one, would have to see more factual information about the Italian
>situation. One must remember that European forests are very different from
>ours, and have a very different history of human use. The goals for their
>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 management.

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 mushrooming?

Peter Werner

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 than a picker's fingers?

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.

September 27:

From Steven Pencall:


>Yes, ecosystem damage from wild harvesting can happen, and is a valid concern.
>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 people
>interact 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 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 objectives.

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 favorite spot.

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 not last all year. Re-read the words of David Tam that I quoted in my earlier message.

>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, and more
>interested in simplifying their own jobs. They want to "manage" the wildlands and
>those who visit there just as some medical personnel want to "manage" patients
>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 funding, 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

September 27:

From Lori Hubbart

Steven -

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, too.

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. History provides 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 little:

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