In what Skeetchestn First Nation Chief Ron Ignace calls a “historic” move, six communities have asserted jurisdiction over Elephant Hill and have regulated mushroom picking and buying.
“This morel picking has been like a wild, wild west where they’ve gone and left a wake of destruction behind them,” Ignace told KTW. “We’re trying to prevent it. We’re calling on the public to stand in support of us to make sure this doesn’t happen.”
Six First Nations — Skeetchestn, Bonaparte, Clinton, Tk’emlups, Pavilion and High Bar — began two weeks ago selling permits to pickers, buyers and campers. Individual pickers need to buy a $20 permit and buyers are being charged $500. In return, the areas are being serviced with garbage cans, porta-potties and information, such as where logging trucks are frequently hauling.
The Tŝilhqot'in First Nation in Williams Lake has implemented an identical permit system for harvesting morels.
Ignace said the regulations were also implemented for health and safety and aboriginal title reasons.
“We’re not looking to make money,” he said. “We’re looking to create a precedent where we are establishing ourselves with controlling and managing our land resources.”
Ignace said seven trucks have been patrolling the Elephant Hill area — which is 191,000 hectares in size — noting so far “everyone’s been very open and purchasing.”
Enforcement options for First Nations remain unclear for those who refuse to buy a permit.
“We will encourage them to purchase it [a permit] and we will ask them to leave the territory if they don’t because this is our jurisdiction, our land and our right to do so,” Ignace said.
Rachael Pollard, area district manager for the Ministry of Forests, said while there’s no legal requirement to buy a permit, it’s a “way of showing respect.”
“There’s no legal requirement to buy a permit,” she said. “Certainly what I understand is there’s been really positive feedback so far and uptake on the program.”
Asked if it could be legally binding in the future, Pollard said the conversation will continue.
“I expect First Nations will expect to be having that larger conversation once we get through this season,” she said.
The province closed the region to vehicles as of Thursday and compliance and enforcement officers may give tickets to those who enter areas closed-off by the province. The ban will remain in affect until the end of the year.
On Thursday, TNRD director for the Bonaparte region Sally Watson told KTW an abundance of morels in the region following the Elephant Hill wildfire last year has been “unprecedented.”
Morels have a distinctive honeycomb look and are considered a delicacy mushroom, often used in French cooking. Mushroom pickers often turn up to charred land in the spring after a fire to search for morels, which are a lucrative fungi. The year after the Fort McMurray wildfire, mushroom pickers arrived in droves, creating a foragers’ Gold Rush. Watson said people have travelled from as far away as Europe and Australia to collect and buy the mushrooms.
“We knew there would be a bumper crop of mushrooms,” Ignace said.
Ignace said mushroom regulation by First Nations has never happened before.
Some mushrooms in British Columbia are poisonous and experts caution against consuming them unless they have been properly identified.
For more information on the permits or to obtain a permit, visit elephanthillfire.com/permit.
Can I show you what actual, on-the-ground Indigenous stewardship can look like? It’s my Secwépemc friends and colleagues taking to the land to help others learn to use it responsibly. 1/ pic.twitter.com/qovd3SXSFB— Joanne Hammond (@KamloopsArchaeo) May 18, 2018