The trailer that was his mushroom buying station burned to the ground last month and police suspect arson but Butch Sheaves isn’t worried about that, he’s worried about what will happen to the West Coast’s mushroom industry if novice pickers continue abusing it.
Sheaves has lived on the West Coast since 1973 and has been involved in the local mushroom industry for the past 18 years.
He has traditionally set up his buying station at the foot of the West Main logging road but was forced to find a different spot this year when he arrived to find another buyer already there.
“That other buyer was there and I didn’t want to encroach on him and be rude,” he said adding he found a different spot nearby to start the season, which kicked off in late-July.
Sheaves said a friend came to his house in a panic in the early morning hours of Aug. 3 to alert him his mushroom station was smouldering and he arrived in time to see it engulfed in flames.
“They’re lucky they didn’t start a huge fire,” he said adding he has suspicions about who might have lit the fire but doesn’t know for sure.
An arson investigation is ongoing but Sheaves said the incident didn’t scare him.
“You can’t be afraid in life,” he said. “Things will settle down.”
Sheaves is scared, however, of what he’s seeing happening in the local mushroom industry.
He said internet chatter promising big financial scores continues to lure new pickers to the area and novices are diving in to forage without taking the time to understand how it works.
“Everybody thinks they’re going to get rich,” he said. “The problem is the newbie pickers, as we call them, are devastating the small, baby mushrooms again…It’s just devastating. The local people know better than to do that.”
He said chanterelles, easily the most popular edible fungi on the West Coast, should not be picked until they’re at least the size of a quarter and should be cut from their root with a knife and placed in a bucket or bag with holes in the bottom to allow the spores to fall and spread through the forest.
Mushrooms are bought by the pound so there is no advantage to picking small ones and, Sheaves said, it typically only takes about 10 days for a mushroom to grow from too small to just right.
He said one of his regular local pickers was recently followed into the bush by several unknown novices and passed a large patch of mushrooms too small to pick on their way in.
“On his way back, there wasn’t one baby left,” Sheaves said. “In reality, if they keep pounding the piss out of these patches, they’re just not going to flower out…They’re killing any chance of any spores showing up. It just can’t continue like that. It’s devastation beyond belief.”
The mushroom industry is largely unregulated in Canada and Sheaves believes it’s time for the government to step in. He suggested permits should be required to participate and fines should be handed out to anyone caught picking undersized mushrooms.
“There’s got to be a way of controlling it or it’s just going to get right out of hand. It’s only going to get worse and we should protect what little we do have left by regulating it,” he said. “I hope the government has the sense to step in. As much as I hate to say it, that’s what’s going to save our mushroom patch.”
Mushroom season typically wraps up in November and Sheaves fears that, with local areas looking picked out, pickers will start heading into the Pacific Rim National Park where mushroom picking is prohibited.
“Now that they’ve picked out the local areas that everybody tries to hide and keep secret, they’re going to target the Park,” he said. “That is guaranteed because there’s nowhere else to pick.”