Drought destroys wild mushrooms in Vancouver Island forests

Drought destroys wild mushrooms in Vancouver Island forests
WatchA concerning impact from this fall's record heat and drought has surfaced in Vancouver Island forests. The absence of wild mushrooms, that should be popping up everywhere right now. And, as Skye Ryan reports, foragers say they've never seen anything like it.

Raking up dry leaves in his Nanaimo yard Sunday, Charlie Pinker could hardly believe it was late October.

“I’ve never seen an October like this and I’ve lived off and on out of here since 1954,” said Pinker, a rural Nanaimo resident.

This fall’s record drought persisted another week, killing trees and nearly drying up rivers that should be roaring.

The forest floor shows it. Dry crackling meets footfalls instead of spongy moss and mushrooms.

According to the Arrowsmith Naturalists‘ Terry Taylor, the drought has destroyed wild mushroom crops that should be covering forest floors from late September through November.

It’s so extreme that while preparing for Sunday’s Mid-Island Mushroom Festival, Taylor and a team of foragers couldn’t find a single one in six hours of searching.

“I’ve never seen a situation like that where you can go out for six hours in October and in a forest around here and not see any mushrooms,” said Taylor, a member and researcher with the Arrowsmith Naturalists outdoors club.

The rare few mushrooms gathered for the show came from higher alpine regions or were grown on farms. Taylor estimates there’s been an over 95 per cent drop in the Island’s wild mushrooms this year from a typical season.

“We have been under climatic stress for quite a few years, but we haven’t had this situation ever before,” said Taylor.

This fall’s rainfall numbers up to Oct. 21 are staggering. Duncan received just 3 per of its usual rainfall between August and October. Comox and Victoria received just 2 per cent, and in Port Alberni, less than 2 per cent of a typical year’s rainfall hit the ground, according to Environment Canada.

The lack of rainfall is impacting those who pick and sell mushrooms, including Qualicum Beach’s Neil Horner.

“Every fall there’s a gold rush of people like me fanning out looking for Chanterelles or Cauliflower (mushrooms) and yeah it’s surprising how many people you talk to, I’m a mushroom picker, I’m a mushroom picker. They’re everywhere,” said Horner who has been picking mushrooms for 40 years.

The harvest of wild mushrooms is a multi-million dollar industry in B.C. each fall, according to provincial statistics, with exports mainly to Japan and Europe, and this fall’s dry conditions could cost many people their livelihoods.

“A regular fall foraging on a good year, I could pull out 30 pounds a day, and I can go back to the same area and I could pull out 30 pounds again. Now nothing, nothing at all,” said Horner.

Time will only tell what impact those losses will cause, but with cold temperatures now settling in, experts say this could be the first fall that mushrooms don’t grow in many Vancouver Island rainforests.

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Skye RyanSkye Ryan

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