CRESCENT LAKE — By day they're unseen, slipping quietly and secretly into the forests of far northern Klamath County.

CRESCENT LAKE — By day they're unseen, slipping quietly and secretly into the forests of far northern Klamath County.

If their searches are successful, they appear at night, carting baskets of freshly picked matsutake mushrooms.

Early in the picking season, which began in late August, the matsutakes weren't plentiful, but with the mushrooms selling at $25 to $30 a pound, pickers were pocketing enough money to leave with smiles.

Since then, however, prices have dipped, some nights as low as $7 a pound for the top grades. Depending on the overseas demand — most are sold to Japan — prices vary, in recent nights climbing between $13 and $15 a pound. Buyers say the prices have been kept low because of high volumes of matsutakes being harvested in Canada. Still, on an average night, an estimated 5,500 pounds of matsutakes are being sold at buying stations in Chemult and Crescent Lake Junction.

Despite the relatively low prices, Tami Kerr, special forest product coordinator for the Deschutes National Forest's Crescent Ranger District, said the number of searchers is high, probably because of the economy.

"It's a pretty busy year. This is the fullest our camp has been in seven or eight years," Kerr said, referring to the seasonal matsutake pickers' campground south of Crescent Lake.

"There are a lot of people here. It's being driven by the economy. It's definitely not the mushrooms," Kerr said.