Poor Matsutake season

dwheeler at teleport.com dwheeler at teleport.com
Sat Nov 21 00:44:32 EST 1998

The following is posted as a courtesy. The original article ran in The
Oregonian, Nov. 17, 1998 p B5

Pickers suffer through poor season for prized matsutake mushrooms

Many barely made more than the daily permit fee of $10, and the poor showing
also meant poor retail receipts for area businesses

Correspondent, The Oregonian

	CHEMULT -- The annual matsutake mushroom season that brings thousands
of migrant pickers to the Cascades has been a bust.	  Where there
normally would be hundreds of people scouring the pumice slopes of the
eastern Cascades in mid-fall, this year’s dismal harvest drew but a handful. 
       “This was not a good year through the Cascades,” said Jerry Smith,
forest products specialist at the Chemult Ranger District of the Winema
National Forest.     Since the end of the 1980s, Smith’s district and the
neighboring Crescent Ranger District have become the commercial mushroom
capital of the Northwest. Thousands of mushroom hunters, most of them Asian,
come to the area to pick the prized matsutake, an expensive delicacy in
Japan. The area is believed to produce about 8 percent of the world’s
production of matsutakes.      During last year’s 60-day picking season,
harvesters gathered and sold an estimated 1.2 million pounds of matsutakes on
the two districts.	Smith figures this year’s take was less than 50,000
pounds. That means pickers, some of whom bring their entire families to the
woods in anticipation of a much-needed income boost, made almost nothing this
year.	  An experineced picker in a normal year can earn up to $100 per day
on average, Smith estimated. This year, a day working the woods probably
grossed no more than $20. With permits costing $10 a day, there was little
reason for pickers to remain in the area.	 “They didn’t even make gas
money,” Smith said.  The story is the same throughout the Cascades. “It’s
just really a non- season,” said David Arthur, who helps oversee the mushroom
harvest on the Siskiyou National Forest near Cave Junction, the state’s other
big mushroom hot spot.	       Fewer mushrooms also translates into lost
retail business, particularly in some of the tiny high desert communities of
northern Klamath County.	 “This year was really poof,” said Bob
Edmunson, owner of Mountain Market, the largest grocery in Chemult.	 
Edmunson and his wife, Pat, depend on the mushroom and hunting seasons to
boost their fall business. Some merchants and others are concerned that this
miserly season might be a harbinger of the future. They wonder if too many
mushrooms were picked in past years.  But Smith doubts that’s true. He said
there also were few mushrooms in several fenced study areas were harvesting
is closely regulated. And fungi have failed to produce throughout the entire
region, from Northern California to Washington, on both sides of the
Cascades.   “It’s odd. The thing about this year: It was consistently poor,”
he said.       Smith wonders if El Nino, with its dry regional influence, is
to blame. That might not be a bad guess, said Dan Luoma, a forest mycologist
at Oregon State University. Summer and early fall were unusually hot and dry
throughout the Northwest. The Willamette Valley suffered through a
record-setting 84 days without rain, for example. Those harsh conditions were
tough on the forest trees and, probably, also tough on some fungi.     Luoma
said  mushrooms like matsutake have a symbiotic relationship with the trees
on whose roots they grow. Although no one knows for sure, Luoma said it makes
sense that poor tree growing conditions can affect the vitality of fungi and,
therefore, mushroom production. Just as trees grow little during drought
periods, mushroom production may also decline.	 If Luoma is right, the
predicted La Nina, El Nino’s soggy opposite, just might mean next year’s
mushroom season will be a good one.

Posted as a courtesy by
Daniel B. Wheeler

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