Crater Lake National Park officials seized 234 pounds of illegally harvested morel mushrooms, estimated to be worth between $5,000 and $8,000.
If you’re going to harvest morel mushrooms in a National Forest, you need to know exactly where you are and what you’re doing. Over the Independence Day weekend, Crater Lake National Park officials seized 234 pounds of illegally harvested morels.
The mushrooms were harvested on National Park Service land, which is illegal, and not on National Forest land, which is legal with a permit.
In what might seem like a small case of overkill, officers from multiple agencies – including the Crater Lake National Park, Oregon State Police troopers, U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officers and Douglas County sheriff’s deputies – cited 14 people suspected of illegally harvesting mushrooms in the park, said Crater Lake Chief Ranger Kean Mihata.
Citations with $100 fines were given to the pickers. Although one has to wonder about the legitimacy of giving people citations when they are only suspected of committing the crime of picking mushrooms illegally. Most of the pickers had National Forest permits for picking mushrooms, but those do not apply, said Mihata, to National Park Service areas.
The cited pickers could go to court to dispute the charges, but they may then face a judge who could conceivably increase the punishment to $5,000 and six months in jail.
Park rangers will hold onto the mushrooms as evidence, but Mihata indicated that they will eventually be destroyed.
The Crater Lake area is a morel picking hotspot since last year’s National Creek Complex fire, which burned almost 21,000 acres in the park and adjacent Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.
Mushroom pickers can legally harvest up to five gallons of mushrooms for personal use without a permit. Harvesting more than five gallons requires a 21-day commercial permit.
Mihata indicated that mushrooms are critical components of forest ecosystems. They are a food source for wildlife and provide additional nutrients for plant life.
“Help us keep this place intact so that ecological processes can play out naturally here,” Mihata said. “These processes are part of what makes the park special.”
But morels are also coveted by humans, selling for upwards and over $20 per pound on the retail market. The 234 pounds of illegally harvested mushrooms were estimated to be worth between $5,000 and $8,000.
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