Timber vs. wild mushrooms

Since she was 12 years old, Jean Hewat has been involved in the mushroom industry.

  • Oct. 29, 2014 3:00 p.m.

Trisha Shanks

Arrow Lakes News

Since she was 12 years old, Jean Hewat has been involved in the mushroom industry. As a kid, she went out with her family picking for pocket money and she’s been buying mushrooms from other pickers at her place on 15 Avenue on the north end of town for the past 21 years. With some help from her mother and occasionally other family members, she is more or less a one-woman show.

The set up has moved from her garage to a new building still being finished on her property with plenty of parking and a large walk-in cooler. She explains the unfinished building during an interview with the Arrow Lakes News as her mother answers the phone and groups of pickers come in carrying their bounty — large buckets of freshly picked fungi.

The odour inside is damp and mossy — the baskets of mushrooms are mostly the large, fluffy white pine, or Matsutake as they are known in Japan, where most of these are destined to go. The largest market for pine mushrooms in the world is in Japan, but Canada is not the only supplier. They are also grown in the US, China, Scandinavia and elsewhere.

Local to Nakusp, Chanterelles, Lobster and several other varieties sprout up inexplicably in pockets throughout the forest. Many locals covet their spots; at least those that haven’t been decimated by the biggest competitor to mushrooms: forestry.

Logging is one of the highest paying primary industries in the Kootenays, yet it poses the biggest threat to the niche industry of mushrooming.

Mushrooms are a multi-million dollar industry bringing tourists, pickers and buyers to the area. During September and October, the streets are lined with vehicles belonging to people who are in town because of this natural resource. They are buying gas, groceries and other supplies and are staying in hotel rooms and going out to dinner. More dollars are being pumped into the local economy, but all of it is threatened by clearcut logging.

“Mushrooms grow naturally in certain little micro climates, pockets and patches that are ideal for their growth.  It is possible for the two industries to coexist. My family grew up on logging,” Hewat explains while sorting pines by hand. “They don’t grow everywhere; just small spots in the forest. In hindsight, things like selective logging, saving sections probably could have been done but it hasn’t.”

Janis Dahlen of Jan and Dan’s Mushroom Station echoes the same sentiment.

“Clear cutting—it takes the mushrooms right out and it could be 80 years before they grow back. We’ve worked the last couple of years with Nakusp and Area Community Forest (NACFOR) to do some strip logging to try to preserve some of the mushroom areas. But (much of it is) being logged as we speak and the mushrooms will never come back. Logging is our first industry in Nakusp. It’s a hard mix.”

Frances Swan, Project Manager with NACFOR stated, “Mushrooms are an example of a non-statutory resource; there are no tenures issued to mushroom pickers, there are no royalties on the mushrooms and declaration of revenue (i.e. subject to provincial and federal taxes) is voluntary. Nevertheless NACFOR tries to address the mushroom resource as best as it can.”

NACFOR are issued a small forest tenure license compared to some larger commercial enterprises. NACFOR logs their designated license area with a requirement to harvest a certain quota of timber, while maintaining a balance between public interest and the environment. Working with biologists to incorporate more knowledge about mushroom habitat, NACFOR hopes to help maintain this natural resource while still maintaining the obligations related to their forest license.

All logging poses a threat to mushroom habitat, including other larger commercial ventures aside from NACFOR working in the local mushroom-rich corridor.

 

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