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Morel pickers on public lands have to follow rules

I’ve been seeing tons of photos online of people picking buckets full of morel mushrooms. Is there a limit to how many mushrooms people can pick? It seems like I remember reading that people had to buy a permit to pick on public lands, and that they could only pick so many. What’s the story?

— Dave S., Medford

It seems like the rules on morel picking on public lands change every year, Dave, so we checked in with the people who should know at the U.S. Forest Service-BLM interagency office in Medford.

It turns out you are right, Dave, there are permits and limits to how many morel mushrooms you can pick.

If you’re a recreational picker, you are allowed to pick up to one gallon per day and up to 5 gallons per year in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest on land covered by the Medford District of the Bureau of Land Management, according to Chris Pingel, who handles information requests at the front counter of the BLM-Forest Service office at 1040 Biddle Road in Medford.

Not only is there a limit of a gallon per day, recreational pickers are supposed to cut their mushrooms in half after they pick them.

“That way if law enforcement checks them for a permit and they don’t have one, the officer will know the mushrooms won’t be sold for commercial use,” Pingel said.

In past years, the Forest Service issued free recreational permits as a way to keep tabs on how many people were out in the forest gathering forest products, but not anymore. Only commercial pickers need a permit, and the cost varies between the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest and land in the Medford District of BLM.

RRSNF charges $20 for a 10-day commercial permit, and pickers can add days for $2 per day. The forest also sells a 6-month pass for $140.

BLM commercial permits cost $10 per day, $35 per week and $100 for a six-month permit, Pingel said.

If you’re a commercial picker, you are required to have the permit and a mushroom-picking map with you in the field, Pingel said.

The permits and limits mentioned here refer only to the Medford District of BLM and the RRSNF, Pingel said. Other forests, including the Umpqua, Winema and Deschutes forests, have their own permit requirements.

In other words, it’s complicated, Dave.

But the takeaway is that it can pay to know exactly where you are picking and exactly what the requirements are, or you may end up paying through the nose.

“It’s a hefty ticket if you get caught by the Forest Service,” Pingel said.

In 2016, the National Park Service issued dozens of tickets and seized hundreds of pounds of morels from pickers who ventured across park boundaries looking for morels that popped up in the wake of the National Creek fire. Violators in those cases paid $130 in bail and fees, but violators can face potential fines of up to $5,000 and a maximum six months in jail, according to the park service.

That’s another point, Dave. Picking in the national park is expressly forbidden.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@rosebudmedia.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.

I’ve been seeing tons of photos online of people picking buckets full of morel mushrooms. Is there a limit to how many mushrooms people can pick? It seems like I remember reading that people had to buy a permit to pick on public lands, and that they could only pick so many. What’s the story?