LANSING — Forest fires are devastating one year, but can bring a tasty bounty the next.
In hopes of helping morel hunters, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources created an online map that highlights the state’s 2015 wildfires and prescribed burns.
“Morel mushrooms are often found in locations where large fires occurred the previous year,” said Jim Fisher, resource protection manager for the Department of Natural Resources Forest Resources Division. “Each spring we get calls from people who are seeking details on those sites to hunt morels.”
So the agency created a tool that lets the fungi finders use their cell phones in the woods to track down likely hunting grounds. The map provides latitude and longitude coordinates and state managed land boundary information for hunters to easily navigate the woods and to make sure they are on public lands. Each burn site on the map is more than 10 acres.
But there are no guarantees of success.
“While the map may provide details on the cover type that was burned, it’s up to the user to investigate whether morel mushrooms are growing at any location on the map,” Fisher said. “Just because a spot is marked on the map, it doesn’t mean morels will be growing at the area identified. We’re providing a resource, but it’s up to the hunters to head out to the forest and see what’s available.”
Morel hunters are excited to use the map.
“I think the maps are helpful because every year there are new hunters in the woods,” said Jerry Watson, vice president of the Michigan Mushroom Hunters Club. “I am leading a small group next week and may check out a location from the DNR burn site.”
Burn site morels come up through a layer of soot that is caught up in the crevices of the mushroom, he said.
“Morels are not the only mushroom in the woods of our state that benefit from a burn site,” Watson said. “The summer mushroom, the chanterelle, also benefits from burns.”
Tourism experts say the map is helpful because morel hunting is a popular past time that draws tourists. Some communities have morel festivals. This year Boyne is hosting its 56th annual morel festival May 11-16.
“People come from all over the nation and sometimes even foreign countries for the festival,” said Jim Baumann, executive director of the Boyne Area Chamber of Commerce.
The festival includes competitive and guided mushroom hunts, a craft beer block party, concerts and tasting events where several restaurants serve hors d’oeuvres that have morels, he said.
“Morel hunting is a very big deal up here,” said Elizabeth Edwards, managing editor for Traverse, Northern Michigan Magazine and mynorth.com, a Traverse-city based magazine about life in Northern Michigan.
“Morel hunting can be fun for tourists,” she said. “It gets them out, gets them hiking, and they can bring home a delicacy.”
— JASMINE WATTS