Rustlers plunder Oregon forests, in search of Japanese delicacy
October 21, 1990
By JEFF BARNARD
Associated Press Writer
GRANTS PASS, Ore. — To the ranks of poachers, marijuana growers and timber thieves, rangers in Oregon’s forests can add a new foe — wild mushroom rustlers.
The mushrooms, which grow in the ponderosa pine forests of Oregon’s Cascade Range, sell for as much as $40 a pound in Japan. With that kind of money to be made, those who are picking them illegally are armed and dangerous, rangers say.
“These doggone matsutaki mushrooms they are picking, what we commonly call pine mushrooms, they sell for a pretty high price in Japan,” said Bill Reanier, agent in charge of law enforcement on the Winema National Forest.
“Many of the pickers out there, for whatever reason, are carrying handguns and what we call long knives,” Reanier said. “The story we are getting out of them is they are doing it to protect themselves from other pickers who are out there trying to establish territorial rights.”
Rangers have taken to wearing flak jackets and traveling in pairs through mushroom country.
This past picking season, rustlers descended in large numbers on both the Winema National Forest, where picking is legal with a permit, and Crater Lake National Park, where visitors are supposed to take nothing but pictures.
Rangers at Crater Lake seized 500 pounds of illegally picked mushrooms and handed out 15 citations, said Chief Ranger George Buckingham Fines range from $25 for someone picking for himself to $250 for those picking for profit.
Rangers at Winema National Forest handed out a similar number of citations to those caught picking without permits. Two pickers were also turned over to state police after computer checks revealed they were wanted for other crimes. Reanier said most of the problems seem to be caused by itinerant pickers who follow the mushroom harvest down the Cascades from Canada to California
“We’ve got some pretty unsavory people coming from the Oregon coast and up in the state of Washington,” he said.
Local buyers pay $10 to $14 a pound for top-grade matsutakis, which are then resold in Japan, Reanier said.
“I talked to one buyer who said he had S50.000 in “cash on him.” he said.
Buckingham said rangers at Crater Lake stumbled on the problem last year while looking for deer poachers.
Now. Reanier said, mushroom rustling is approaching timber violations and pot plantations as one of the top crime problems of Oregon’s forests.
He said authorities will need a plan of attack by next year’s hardest season “Quite frankly, this year we just got caught flat-footed,” he said.