Video and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — Wild mushroom picking is a growing hobby in Rhode Island and a new bill would open up state land to foraging.
Wild mushrooms are typically found growing on decaying organic matter in cool, moist areas such as forests. And Rhode Island is running low on this habitat, prompting a request for access to land owned or managed by the Department of Environment (DEM).
The bill (H5445) allows the taking of mushrooms but only for personal use and personal consumption, with rules and regulations set by DEM.
The bill was introduced by Rep. David Place, D-Burrillville, at the request of an unnamed wild mushroom picker in his district. DEM, so far, hasn’t taken a stance on the legislation, but Place explained that DEM adheres to the Leave No Trace principles of conservation. The seven tenets include the rule “leave what you find” and avoid the removal of natural items.
Robert Burke, owner of the downtown restaurant Pot au Feu, said the interest in mushroom foraging is an extension of the farm-to-table and locavore movement. He noted that harvesting mushrooms is like picking apples and that taking the fruit does not harm or inhibit future growth.
“It’s a natural process. The fruit has to be shed by the organism. It has to detach from it,” Burke said. “And if it’s not done by someone foraging it will happen naturally with the mushrooms dying within a period of days or weeks anyway.”
Burke also noted the Rhode Island’s founder, Roger Williams, was a forager and therefore mushroom picking should be a right much like harvesting seaweed. DEM should regulate mushroom hunting the same way it issue licenses for fishing and quahogging, he said.
Although DEM doesn’t issue mushroom-hunting licenses, it does offer tips for cultivating wild mushrooms. According to the University of Rhode Island, chicken of the woods and honey mushroom are the most common edible wild mushrooms in the state. They suggest mushroom hunters bring an identification book or an experienced forager to avoid poisonous mushrooms.
The hearing was the first for the bill and therefore held for further study.