Mushroom hunters raiding fire-ravaged Stanislaus National Forest

Mushroom hunters raiding fire-ravaged Stanislaus National Forest

The fire-devastated Stanislaus National Forest of California is now being raided by smugglers for a pricey contraband - the succulent morel mushroom.

Officials have banned mushroom hunters from entering the forest because they believe that parched, unstable tree trunks and logging operations following the August 2013's massive Rim Fire have made the area very dangerous and vulnerable to further damage.

But the same fire in the forest paved way for a bumper crop of morels, which is attracting an increasing number of mushroom hunters. Mushroom hunters can be easily spotted in local bars as they are dressed head-to-toe in camouflage.

As per fresh estimates, the bumper crop of morels in the forest has a market value of as high as $40 million. Retail prices for fresh morels range between $25 and $40 per pound.

While authorities are prohibiting wild mushroom hunters from entering the forest, mushroom industry is opposing the ban.

Todd Spanier, founder of a commercial mushroom distributor called King of Mushrooms, said banning the mushroom hunt might have cost the local economy millions of dollars in lost revenue.

Opposing the ban, Spanier said, "It's a tremendous lost opportunity. We might not see this in the Sierras for another 10 years."

But, the Stanislaus National Forest spokesperson Rebecca Garcia stressed that the U. S. Forest Service could not allow the public in risky areas.

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