By Tom Nauman
There have been two controversies regarding mushroom hunting and Illinois laws in the past few weeks. The first occurred when a news release was issued that announced that mushroom hunters in Illinois were now required to purchase a license from the state for $16.75. The news release appeared to have been issued by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. We at Morel Mania, Inc. and the IDNR fielded a tremendous number of emails and calls of protest. We even had a phone call from an Associated Press reporter wanting more information.
It turned out to be an elaborate hoax. It happened just before April Fool's Day, so we should have had a clue. Someone or some group copied a masthead from a real IDNR news release, altered it to announce the mushroom hunting license requirement, and then either mailed or faxed it to news agencies. It was almost the same as stirring up a beehive!
Relax, the state has no intentions of requiring you to get a license.
We at Morel Mania have been handing out a "Mushroom Hunting License" for more than ten years now. They are free even though they have a suggested price of $12.50 on them. We include them in the package when someone orders merchandise from our catalog or web site. Several years ago, after sending some with an order, we received a check for $25.00 with a request for two more. We voided the check, returned it to the sender, and sent him a dozen more of the licenses after we stopped laughing. We also have a collection of spoof mushroom hunting licenses that we've acquired over the years. One of them is at least forty years old. We even have one distributed by the Illinois Department of "Conversation". But, they are all hoaxes. So, relax, take a deep breath, and chill out because it just ain’t so.
The second eruption of emails and phone calls came when someone posted a message to our "Sightings" page that Illinois Hunters needed to beware because mushroom hunting in all Illinois State Parks was restricted until after 1:00 p.m. because they were reserved for turkey hunters. The poster went on to say that he was angry because he knew he was going to see turkey hunters walking out with big bags of mushrooms just because they had turkey permits while he was waiting for the 1:00 start. And, he wanted everyone to write their senators, congressmen, and governor to complain.
First of all, let's keep the governor out of this. With the current condition of Illinois' budget, this and the hoax concerning the mushroom hunting license may just plant the seed of thought in the minds of those that could put it into effect. I once suggested that I wouldn't mind paying for a license if the state would allow mushroom hunting in the state parks. I also suggested that with the license they would attempt to educate people about using a basket or mesh bag and not disturbing the "root" system.
Well, as of last June (2004), it is legal to gather mushrooms, nuts, and berries in state parks in Illinois. Prior to that the policy was: "Take only pictures, leave only footprints". So, if you gathered mushrooms in state parks last year, or any year before, you were breaking the law. Many people did it and I do know of some that were told to stop by park rangers, but I don't know of anyone in Illinois arrested for mushroom hunting in a state park.
There are conditions to the new law, both are for safety reasons. One being that the manager of the park may still restrict mushroom hunting in certain areas because there may be cliffs or other dangers if people wander off the marked trails which mushroom hunters will undoubtedly do. Another restriction is that some areas of some state parks, not all areas, may be open to turkey hunters and, therefore closed to mushroom hunters until 1:00 p.m. which is when the turkey hunters must stop for the day. I assume this means that if a turkey hunter walks out of the woods with a bag of mushrooms he or she would be subject to arrest and a fine.
I really don't have a problem with the restrictions. A mushroom hunter that is on hands and knees in full camo picking mushrooms could very easily resemble a turkey and I certainly don't want to have to wear blaze orange for mushroom hunting.
Ginger B. sent this in an email, "My husband and I were turkey hunting on private property and while calling what we thought was a big Tom turkey coming over a ridge, we heard leaves crunching and coming closer to our calls...it was getting ready to come over the ridge any second now. With our guns loaded and fingers on the trigger and aimed toward the ridge, over the edge into view came 3 mushroom hunters with not a care in the world other than their big potato sack of morels in hand. They did not seem aware of their surroundings. Not only were they trespassing, taking mushrooms that weren't theirs, they almost caused a very serious accident walking up on hunters who were ready to fire."
Ginger makes a good point for safety precautions. Also notice that she was on private land. Mushroom hunters have a terrible reputation for trespassing. Beware, if the landowner catches you, it could mean an arrest for criminal trespass; a $250.00 fine; your vehicle may be towed and impounded; and, worst of all, you don't get to keep the mushrooms!
I know because my father enjoyed catching trespassers as much as he liked eating mushrooms. When he saw a vehicle parked along our woods in spring he would wait awhile before confronting them because that way he didn't have to climb the hills but he would still get the mushrooms.
Prior to the new law, if you wanted to hunt mushrooms, you either had to own your own land, have permission from a landowner, or find a city/county park or Wildlife Management Area that allowed it. Note that the Wildlife Management Areas had and still have the restrictions that accompany the new state park law. Or, you had to travel to a neighboring state; which all allow mushroom hunting in state parks - with restrictions. So now, there is no excuse for trespassing. You just have to wait until 1:00 p.m. in some areas. It's a trade off that we all should be able to live with. After all, you couldn't hunt mushrooms any time of day in an Illinois state park prior to this year. Now you have from 1:00 p.m.
until dark in restricted areas and all day in others I found this in the March 31, 2005 Lincoln (Illinois) Daily News based on an interview with Joel Brunsvold, director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources stated:
No license is required to hunt mushrooms; however, the following regulations are in effect:
Collection of mushrooms is allowed in state parks and recreation areas but is prohibited in any area designated as a dedicated nature preserve.
Areas that are under the jurisdiction of the Department of Natural Resources and offer spring turkey hunting will not be open for mushroom hunting until after 1 p.m. daily, to ensure the safety of both types of hunters.
Turkey hunting area restrictions apply through May 5 in the southern turkey hunting zones and through May 12 in the northern zone.
Some sites may also close equestrian and popular hiking trails where turkey hunting is allowed.
In the same article, Tony Mayville, director of land management for the department stated, "Rules that are in place pertain to safety, as spring is a time when Illinois state parks are popular for a variety of activities. The rules have been crafted to maximize enjoyment for the largest number and variety of park visitors."
"We want to make sure that those out searching for mushrooms, as well as those hunting turkeys, or horseback riding, or hiking, have a pleasant and safe experience," said Galen Westerfield, chief of Illinois Conservation Police. "These rules are established to make sure that all groups can have a quality experience in Illinois state parks." If you need information on a particular state park or wildlife management area, contact the site manager.
In my opinion, an additional, not previously mentioned, benefit from the new law (with or without restrictions) may be an increase in tourism dollars to the state of Illinois. There is a story told that Michiganders know when the mushroom season has begun when they see all the cars with out-of-state license plates parked near the woods! I know literally hundreds of mushroom hunters that travel to neighboring states from Illinois specifically to hunt mushrooms. Many go to Michigan and Wisconsin because their season is later than ours. But some also make the trek because of public access to state owned land in Indiana, Iowa, and Missouri. Some Illinois shroomers will cringe when I say this, but we may start seeing a lot more cars with Michigan and Wisconsin plates in our state parks!
So far, the tourism aspect of mushroom hunting has been beneath the radar of Illinois Bureau of Tourism. Not so for Michigan. I'm sure the income in tourism dollars to Michigan from mushroom hunters totals several million dollars. I've written before that if you drive through the northern part of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan in Spring, you'll actually see signs with the words, "Welcome Mushroom Hunters." I don't think morels in Michigan grow any more or less abundantly than in Illinois. In fact, the Illinois season is a little easier to predict. As of April 15, eighty of the 360 (so far) pre-registered competitors for the festival in Magnolia on May 7 are not from Illinois. They have to sleep, eat, and buy gas for the trip home somewhere. That translates into tourism dollars. But, Michigan has and still will have much more public land to hunt for mushrooms. But at least now Illinois has some.
In other news, the Illinois State Morel Mushroom Hunting Championship and Spongy Fungi Festival will happen on May 6 & 7. Check the schedule of events at http://www.morelmania.com. Taylor Lockwood of Mendocino, California will give the presentation at the Friday evening open house. Taylor travels the world photographing mushrooms. In fact, he's leaving from Magnolia on May 9 to travel to Puerto Rico to assist the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) with a special on mushrooms.
The morel season so far appears to be good. Reports to the "Sightings" page (http://www.morelmania.com) from areas south and southwest of us that have had some rain are better than last year. Of course almost any year would be better than last year (2004). But again, after the bumper crops of 2003, most years would pale in comparison.
There are two new morel books on the market (both are available through Morel Mania, Inc.) The first is “Enjoy the Sport of Morel Hunting” by John and Theresa Maybrier. John and Theresa are owners of Team-Morel (http://www.team-morel.com) and also write for Adventure Sports Outdoors. “Enjoy the Sport of Morel Hunting” gives a great overall view of all aspects of morel hunting. It also lists contact information for all states in regards to what is and what is not allowed.
The second book is “Find the Tree...Find the Morel” written by Jason Edge (http://www.morelmasters.com). Jason and family are from Southwest Wisconsin and his occupation enables him to study the trees during all four seasons. “Find the Tree...Find the Morel” describes how Jason is able to predict which trees will have morels next Spring.
Have a super season!
Remember, whenever you want to try eating a mushroom you're not familiar with, check it in at least two field guides. If they say it's edible, try just a nibble, wait 24 hours, and if there are no ill effects then consume larger amounts. All past articles are available http://www.morelmania.com/info.html Please feel free to contact us with questions or comments. Especially if you have ideas or suggestions for future columns: Tom and Vicky Nauman, Morel Mania, 8948 Illinois Hwy 18, Magnolia, IL 61336, Phone 309-364-3319, Fax 309-364-2960.