Mushroom hunters salivating for their first foray of the year into the woods to scare up some delectable matsutakes for dinner may very well lose their appetites when they arrive at their local Six Rivers National Forest Service office to get a collecting permit.
Until now, personal-use matsutake collecting permits for the SRNF have been free. Now, there's a fee: $35 for a minimum five-consecutive-day permit and $7 more per day beyond that. A 30-consecutive-day permit is $100 and a full-season permit is $200. And each mushroom picker in your party has to have a permit.
The matsutake season opened on Oct. 10. The grumblings began not long after. One collector, Greg Chisolm of Willow Creek, wrote the Journal with a list of grievances about the new setup, including: the five-consecutive-day permit is a losing proposition for people who only have weekends off to go collecting; a formerly fun outing into the woods with Dad is suddenly quite costly at $35 a person; you can collect rocks and fir poles at a far, far cheaper rate (the rocks, in fact, are free, up to eight tons a year from the Trinity River in a site above Hawkins Bar, says Chisolm).
Chisolm also worries that the top brass at SRNF hasn't communicated enough about the new fees to the folks on the ground.
"Pity the poor ranger who will be sitting behind the desk actually issuing these permits",he said. "I went into our local Willow Creek district office today and the young man sitting behind the desk had no clue whatsoever about any of the conditions surrounding mushroom permits. If I had just driven over there from Eureka I'd be furious."
In a news release sent out by SRNF Supervisor Tyrone Kelley, Kelley said the new fee conditions are intended "both to ensure sustainability of the mushroom resource and to protect other National Forest resources."
SRNF Public Affairs officer Julie Ranieri said last week the direction to institute a fee came down from Washington; she's still trying to get more details for us and we'll add an update when she does. Ranieri did note that commercial matsutake permits have always had a fee. Last year it was $20. This year it's $35, same as for the personal-use collecting permit.
Matsutake season ends Dec. 31 on the SRNF. The news release noted that "Forest Service law enforcement personnel will be patrolling and conducting checkpoints to enforce permit conditions." Violators could be slapped with as much as $5,000 and six months in jail.
Meanwhile, over at the Bureau of Land Management office in Arcata, which also hands out mushroom-collecting permits for the lands it manages, a spokeperson says permits for personal collection of matsutakes are still free. However, you have to cut the mushrooms you collect so they can't be sold. Those and other regulations are explained on the permit application. And commercial permits come with a fee.