Banned from National Forests

Two narratives emerged early on about commercial mushroom pickers, and they still endure to this day. One is that they damage the resource, both the mushrooms and the forests. The second is that they are violent and territorial. The Forest Service often uses these two reasons to deny access to commercial pickers. The way we see the world is shaped by stories we hear and by stories we tell ourselves. One of the goals of the film and of this blog is to contextualize these existing narratives and start creating different stories about commercial pickers.

In 2016, all burn-morel harvest areas were off-limits to commercial pickers in Montana. In the following NPR piece, district ranger Deb Mucklow claims that, in previous years, pickers “left a huge mess behind.” How does that mess compare with that left by loggers, hunters, or miners? What is the actual ecological impact of that mess?

Then reporter Nicki Ouellet creates a mood of criminality by stating “there were even rumors that some of the pickers were trying to pay off gambling debts with mushroom money.” Since when do journalists report rumors without verifying them? And what is wrong with using mushroom money to pay off gambling debts? Gambling is legal.

Then Ouellet states “things got dangerously territorial in the back country.” And she quotes Mucklow saying, “People were using firearms or sidearms to say ‘This is my area, nobody can go into it.” Ouellet didn’t seem to have investigated these claims. Many pickers who have been on the circuit for 20 or 30 years told me that the image of violent pickers is false. That there have been isolated incidents, but that those are the exception, not the norm. And it certainly have been my experience for the last six years. The media keep these stereotypes alive in the public’s psyche, and the Forest Service continue using them to keep commercial pickers out.

Filmmaker’s Statement

Although this film is a collaborative effort between several people, this blog will express my own opinions only.

I’m equally concerned about the working conditions of commercial mushroom pickers as I am about the impact of the harvest on the ecosystems. I believe that the management of natural resources should be regulated, and that that process should involve local and transient communities as much as possible. I believe that the Forest Service deserves more support in the form of better funding in order to fulfill its mission in the best way possible. I hope that our film can 1) improve the relationship between commercial mushroom pickers and forest managers, 2) improve the relationship between commercial and recreational pickers, 3) improve the working conditions for both pickers and managers, 4) contribute to the conversation about immigrants and immigration, and 5) improve the overall management of our public forests.

Happy mushroom picking!

-Olivier Matthon