The Williams Lake Indian Band is stipulating no-go zones for mushroom picking in areas burned by last summer’s wildfires. 100 Mile Free Press photo

The Williams Lake Indian Band is stipulating no-go zones for mushroom picking in areas burned by last summer’s wildfires. 100 Mile Free Press photo

Who controls mushroom harvesting on Indigenous lands?

‘We don’t necessarily know where the mushrooms grow, how old the stands need to be, those types of things.’

By Marc Fawcett-Atkinson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, National Observer

Jordon Gabriel is trying to manage who harvests wild mushrooms on the Lil̓wat First Nation’s lands. Wild mushrooms, berries and other non-timber forest resources growing in the understory of B.C.’s forests have largely been ignored in the provincial government’s forest management decisions.

It’s a regulatory gap that some First Nations in the province have been stepping in to fill — a move both highlighting the value of forests beyond the trees and increasing First Nations’ jurisdiction over their land.

Nor is the Lil̓wat First Nation alone. Several First Nations across B.C. and the Yukon have started to regulate who can harvest wild foods from their lands, especially for commercial use. It’s a big shift, particularly compared to the province’s current laissez-faire approach that lets anyone harvest anywhere on Crown land, which is about 94 per cent of the province.

“When we look at managing the forest in our forestry department, we look at it sustainably,” said Klay Tindall, a colleague of Gabriel’s at Lil̓wat Forestry Ventures. “We look at what inventories of wood are out there, what we can log and what we’re keeping behind. We don’t feel like that’s being done with some of the other resources out there, specifically these botanical resources.”

B.C.’s forests have historically been managed almost exclusively for timber, the root of the province’s $30-billion forestry industry. That’s left non-timber forest resources such as wild mushrooms and berries, and the understory ecosystems that support them, largely sidelined in forest management decisions.

And that has left a data dark hole when it comes to non-timber forest resources, making it difficult to get a sense of the industry’s scale. A 2010 study found that between 1995 and 2005, roughly $3.5 million worth of chanterelle mushrooms were exported to Europe annually. Other researchers noted that between 2000 and 2003, about $20 million worth of pine mushrooms, or matsutake, were sent to Japan each year. And a third team found that B.C.’s Kootenay Boundary huckleberry harvest is worth between $91,000 and $685,000.

“We don’t necessarily know where the mushrooms grow, how old the stands need to be, those types of things. (And) it’s really hard to develop a mushroom strategy without knowing the proper inventories,” Tindall said.

It’s a knowledge gap the nation is working to fill, in part to provide baseline data for a planned permitting system for commercial and recreational harvesters on their land.

“You’ve got more and more people tramping around, you’ve got First Nations where this is an economic driver, and some First Nations now have gone out and (established) mushroom permits,” said William Nikolakis, a lawyer specializing in Aboriginal and natural resource law and a professor at the University of British Columbia. He has worked closely with the Tsilhqot’in National Government, which established a wild mushroom harvesting permit in 2018.

“First Nations have their own set of laws and rules and norms around how to manage non-timber forest (resources) as well as forests. The Crown is also asserting, in B.C., their own laws and sovereignty over non-timber forest products and forest products. So you’ve got this clash of laws,” he explained.

So far, no court cases have directly dealt with the question of non-timber forest resources, Nikolakis said. If one did, it’s likely the Crown (the provincial or federal governments) would try to limit how much First Nations could regulate non-timber forest resources and, by extension, the forests that support them.

It’s an approach Nikolakis said doesn’t sit well with many First Nations because it lets Canada — not First Nations — limit the scope and scale of Aboriginal rights. And typically, the courts “define these in very static terms and (freeze) them in time.”

“So many First Nations are going around (anyway) and exercising their rights and laws in their own way, giving expression to their own laws.” And that includes regulating who can harvest mushrooms on their land.

It’s an approach Kukpi7 Ron Ignace, chief of the Skeetchestn Indian Band, took following the Elephant Hill wildfire, which ripped through the First Nation’s traditional territory in 2017. Anticipating a rush of mushroom pickers seeking fire morels — which only grow the year after a wildfire and are one of B.C.’s most important commercial species — he partnered with other Secwepemc communities and the Ts’kw’aylaxw First Nation of the St’at’imc Nation to establish a permit system for harvesters.

Overall, he said, the system was well-received. A single buyer refused to pay the permit fee many pickers and buyers appreciated the garbage disposal, outhouses and search and rescue service the First Nations provided in exchange for greater oversight. And the province was generally supportive, going so far as to specify in subsequent publications about the morel industry that a permit was required to harvest in the Elephant Hill area.

It’s an approach — and assertion of Secwepemc jurisdiction — that Kukpi7 Ignace plans on expanding beyond wild mushrooms to the entire forest through a partnership with Brinkman Reforestation Ltd and Forest Foods Ltd.

“What we’re looking to do … is to rebuild the forest not as a monoculture — which it is today, by and large through tree plantations — but to rebuild it in a biodiverse way.”

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Health Minister Tyler Shandro said Thursday that the province was ready to move forward with Phase 2A and B in the coming weeks. (Photo by Paul Taillon/Office of the Premier)
COVID restrictions for retail, sports and performers further eased

Occupancy in stores and malls boosted to 25 per cent from 15 per cent

Advocate file image
Red Deer COVID cases continue to decline

249 cases in Red Deer, down from 565 peak on Feb. 22

(Photo from Highway 11 Functional Planning Study)
Public input wanted for Highway 11 improvement plan

Round 2 of public online engagement continues until March 10

File photo
Gov’t of Alberta identifies estimated 300 new COVID-19 cases Sunday

Online COVID-19 dashboard unavailable as upgrades being completed

(The Canadian Press)
‘Worse than Sept. 11, SARS and financial crisis combined’: Tourism industry in crisis

Travel services saw the biggest drop in active businesses with 31 per cent fewer firms operating

A SAGA member (left) poses as Jessi Hanks (right) with Castle Restaurant puts up a safe space sticker to display on the restaurant’s front door. Shaela Dansereau/ Pipestone Flyer.
SAGA Wetaskiwin works with local businesses to display they are a safe space

The safe space stickers show that its a safe and inclusive space.

David and Collet Stephan leave for a break during their appeal hearing in Calgary on Thursday, March 9, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Alberta Appeal Court orders 3rd trial for parents in toddler’s meningitis death

Stephans were accused of not seeking medical attention sooner for Ezekiel, who had meningitis when he died

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Vaccine hesitancy decreases in B.C. as mass immunizations set to begin: poll

Two-thirds of British Columbians, and Canadians, would get the vaccine as soon as possible

A woman walks through Toronto’s financial district on Monday, July 30, 2018. A new poll suggests most Canadians believe there’s still a long way to go to achieve gender equality in this country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
Canadians, especially women, say gender equality not achieved in Canada: Poll

Poll results themselves underscore the challenge, with more men believing equality had been achieved

This image provided by Harpo Productions shows Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex, left, in conversation with Oprah Winfrey. (Joe Pugliese/Harpo Productions via AP)
Race, title and anguish: Meghan and Harry explain royal rift

Meghan said she struggled with concerns within the royal family about her son’s skin colour

Kiara Robillard is seen in an undated handout photo. When the pandemic began, Robillard had to rush back home to Alberta from California, where she had been living for five years, after she was struck by a truck that broke her spine in two places. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Kiara Robillard, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
‘It kind of clicks:’ Text4Hope program helps with depression, anxiety during pandemic

Participants receive one text message every morning for three months

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

Supporters rally outside court as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church is in court to appeal bail conditions, after he was arrested for holding day services in violation of COVID-19 rules, in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday March 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
‘Law remains valid:’ Pastor accused of violating health orders to remain in jail

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing the pastor

Most Read