The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has recently announced plans to introduce a bag limit on wild mushroom foraging in state parks. This unexpected move has taken Minnesota foragers by surprise, leading to widespread frustration and heated debate surrounding these new limits. The increasing regulations surrounding foraging limits raise an important question that requires careful consideration: Should government agencies uphold these rules to protect the environment, or should foragers be granted unrestricted access to these natural resources for personal use?
Mushroom hunting on public lands has significantly increased in recent years, especially following the Covid-19 Pandemic. Minnesotans have been seeking out coveted wild edibles like chanterelle, hen of the woods, and morel mushrooms in Minnesota state parks.
Current Minnesota foraging rules allow an unrestricted collection of mushrooms for personal, noncommercial use as long as they are foraged on state lands. Mushroom harvesting for commercial use is prohibited without a permit and proper training from an accredited mushroom identification course.
Some national forests in Minnesota also allow mushroom foraging for personal use with a limit of one gallon per person per day – a limit that mirrors the new rule changes that the Minnesota DNR plans to adhere to state parks. This will be the first time in around fifteen years that new regulations have been implemented.
With the considerable increase in mushroom harvesting, the Minnesota DNR is concerned that these resources could be overharvested and negatively impact the fragile ecosystems within state parks.
The increase of large foraging groups has demonstrated harmful behaviors outside of overcollection that threatens the environment. Members working for Minnesota state parks have observed these groups trampling vegetation off-trail, which not only damages the natural features of these parks but also threatens to spread invasive species and foreign diseases.
Furthermore, some argue that if foragers harvest too many mushrooms from an area without giving them time to replenish, it can lead to population decline and even local extinction of some species. Nonetheless, research has shown that this might not necessarily be true. According to one long-term study, systemic harvesting of mushrooms does not appear to reduce future yields, nor does it impact the species richness of wild fungi. However, the study also found that consistent trampling of the forest floor does reduce amounts of mushrooms and damages the soil and surrounding plants (1). Since mushrooms are only the fruiting body of the entire fungal organism, they tend to grow back rather quickly after being picked. Still, many species of animals and insects rely on mushrooms as a food source during certain times of the year.
DNR Parks and Trails Director Ann Pierce tells the Star Tribune, “With consumable resources, whether it’s fish or deer or berries and mushrooms, you need to look at what you can logically harvest without hurting the resource.”
She believes collection limits are necessary to protect resources that could be harmed by the ungoverned increases in mushroom foraging. Pierce recognizes that most mushroom hunters are respectful of the land, but these proposed rules should be set in place to protect the resources in state parks in the long term.
Many foragers and representatives of the Minnesota Mycological Society have voiced their concerns against the new regulation. They argue that mushroom foraging for personal, non-commercial use does not harm the regrowth of mushrooms, nor is it an unsustainable practice. They also claim that the proposed bag limits are not necessary since the rule does not correlate with the actual environmental impact of mushroom foraging.
Peter Martignacco, president of the Minnesota Mycological Society, points out that the DNR should be seeking out different ways to encourage outdoor engagement and expanding mushroom picking opportunities instead of giving restrictions and limits.
“Our footprint is pretty light on the environment compared to other land uses,” he tells StarTribune. “Foraging is not about picking a few mushrooms to put on your steak tonight, says Martignacco, “Minnesota foragers value this activity for many reasons. It is thrilling to be out on a scavenger hunt when the prize is something delicious that you can cook.”
Martinagnacco also fears these new rules will be standardized in state forests and state wildlife management areas and that these unnecessary changes could eventually lead to a mushroom foraging ban in state parks. However, Pierce claims these new regulations would only apply to state parks and not on other state-owned lands.
The Minnesota Mycological Society has gathered in state parks for over seventy years to educate the public about fungi and foraging. With around 1,000 members, the society is Minnesota’s largest and oldest gathering of mushroom hunters. Despite the increase of individuals hunting mushrooms on public land, Martignacco says these activities aren’t enough to put mushrooms or their environments in danger. He asserts that mushroom foraging is a sustainable activity that does not require harvest limits since it does not harm the regrowth of fungi.
Since learning about these proposed changes, Martignacco has attempted to meet with Minnesota DNR officials to discuss the issue. Yet, he has been told the agency had no interest in discussing the proposition until it has been published for public comment.
Pierce reported that she plans to speak to Martignacco over the phone to discuss his concerns, stating that “Maybe they have some ideas that make sense.” But Pierce is still hoping that these new changes will be enforced to the public by the beginning of next year.
She says that any of these proposed rule changes on mushroom foraging laws will be put out for public comment prior to being officially enacted.
Ultimately, the outcome will depend on the input received during the public comment period. The Minnesota DNR will carefully evaluate the concerns and suggestions raised by Martignacco and other members of the foraging community. As the discussion unfolds, both sides can only hope for an open and constructive dialogue that considers the importance of environmental preservation while also still allowing opportunities for responsible and enjoyable mushroom foraging experiences within Minnesota state parks.