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

B.C.’s parliament buildings in Victoria. (Photo: Tom Fletcher)
Surrey gets two cabinet ministers, a parliamentary secretary and government whip

Premier John Horgan’s NDP MLAs were sworn in on Tuesday and the cabinet was revealed Thursday afternoon

Steve ‘Elvis’ Elliott performs for residents of Amica White Rock. Exercise-to-music programs that led to a threat of city fines due to a noise complaint are to resume next week. (Contributed file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak declared at Amica White Rock

Peace Portal Seniors Village outbreak declared over

Wickson Pier in Crescent Beach is closed to the public, as work to replace and repair piles continues. (Susan Richards de Wit photo)
PHOTOS: Repairs to Crescent Beach pier complete

$180,000 Wickson Pier project included pile replacement, says City of Surrey parks manager

Surrey city Councillor Brenda Locke. (File photo)
Brenda Locke trying to breathe life into Surrey’s defunct Public Safety Committee

Surrey councillor’s motion will be up for debate at a future council meeting

The Festival of Lights; Jingle Bell White Rock; and the Lighted Boat Parade all helped light up the White Rock waterfront on Saturday, Dec. 7. (Aaron Hinks photo)
White Rock Festival of Lights postponed

While event founder remains optimistic, the future of this year’s display is uncertain

(Photo: Amy Reid)
VIDEO: 2020 Community Leader Awards recognize Surrey’s unsung heroes

They don’t often receive recognition and don’t necessarily have a high profile in the community

Arthur Topham has been sentenced to one month of house arrest and three years of probation after breaching the terms of his probation. Topham was convicted of promoting hate against Jewish people in 2015. (Photo submitted)
Quesnel man convicted for anti-Semitic website sentenced to house arrest for probation breach

Arthur Topham was convicted of breaching probation following his 2017 sentence for promoting hatred

Langley School District's board office. (Langley Advance Times files)
‘Sick Out’ aims to pressure B.C. schools over masks, class sizes

Parents from Langley and Surrey are worried about COVID safety in classrooms

The baby boy born to Gillian and Dave McIntosh of Abbotsford was released from hospital on Wednesday (Nov. 25) while Gillian continues to fight for her life after being diagnosed with COVID-19.
B.C. mom with COVID-19 still fighting for life while newborn baby now at home

Son was delivered Nov. 10 while Gillian McIntosh was in an induced coma

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

B.C. Premier John Horgan, a Star Trek fan, can’t resist a Vulcan salute as he takes the oath of office for a second term in Victoria, Nov. 26, 2020. (B.C. government)
Horgan names 20-member cabinet with same pandemic team

New faces in education, finance, economic recovery

A new ‘soft reporting’ room is opening inside the Ann Davis Transition Society offices on Dec. 1, 2020 which is thought to be the first of its kind in B.C. (Ann Davis Transitional Society/ Facebook)
New ‘trauma-informed’ reporting room opening next week in Chilliwack

It’s a space for reporting domestic violence, sexual assault, or gender-based violence to police

The corporate headquarters of Pfizer Canada are seen in Montreal, Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. The chief medical adviser at Health Canada says Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine could be approved in Canada next month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Health Canada expects first COVID-19 vaccine to be approved next month

Canada has a purchase deal to buy at least 20 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine,

The online poster for Joel Goddard, who left his Willoughby home Nov. 10, 2020, has been updated by his family and friends who received word that he’s been found.
Langley man missing since Nov. 10 found alive and safe in Abbotsford

Family of the Willoughby area man had been searching for days. Police find him at Abbotsford Airport

Most Read