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Foraging morel mushrooms in the Pacific Northwest? Last year’s wildfires might offer clues.

SEATTLE — Morel mushroom harvesting season is underway in Washington state and last year's wildfires might offer clues on the best spots to forage.

As snow melts, the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest announced locations for personal and commercial morel harvesters that may yield a tasty crop this season due to last year's blazes. When a fire moves through a forested area, significant tree cover and other vegetation is burned away leaving the soil exposed. And large concentrations of nutrients from dead trees deposited in the soil can fuel the growth of these honeycomb-cap mushrooms.

But the jury is still out on whether it will be a bumper crop this season, said Robin DeMario, spokesperson for the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. Aside from where wildfires occurred and how pervasive they were, weather and soil moisture play a large part in how morels develop, she said.

The April snowfall likely has pushed back mushroom development, DeMario added.

Nevertheless, the permit season is active and runs through July 31. Permits are sold at Forest Service offices in Winthrop, Chelan, Cle Elum and Naches.

"Depending upon how prolific the mushroom crop is, we could see a large number of mushroom harvesters coming to pick in areas of the forest that burned in 2021," Naches District Ranger Aaron Stockton said in recent news release.

Individual mushroom harvesters, who collect less than 5 gallons a day, do not need to purchase a commercial harvesting permit. However they must carry a copy of the Forest Service's free Incidental Use Mushroom Information Sheet, which can be printed or picked up at a local Forest Service office.

The Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest says three sites where large fires occurred are for commercial harvest.

— Cedar Creek near Naches, 55,842 acres burned

— Cub Creek 2 near Winthrop, 70,186 acres burned

— Schneider Spring near Naches, 107,322 acres burned

The Twentyfive Mile fire area, 12 miles northwest of Chelan where 22,117 acres were burned last year, will be open for personal, noncommercial mushroom harvest only. The area has drier drainage and is not expected to produce large amounts of mushrooms, the Forest Service said.

Methow Valley District Ranger Chris Furr said people hunting for mushrooms should be careful of their surroundings in fire-affected lands.

"Mushroom pickers should be particularly aware of dead trees when they choose areas to park and stop for breaks or lunch. Dead trees may fall or have branches fall out of them unexpectedly," he said in statement.

Forest visitors are also asked to practice "leave-no-trace" etiquette as burned lands are exceptionally vulnerable to disturbances.

DeMario said harvesters should also watch out for stump holes that appear to be solid.

As for the uninitiated, DeMario could only describe the flavors of morels with one word: "yummy."

___ (c)2022 The Seattle Times Visit The Seattle Times at Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

This story was originally published May 12, 2022 5:30 AM.

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