Finding Morels in the West Region
The Western Region is rather large and the morels will be scattered from the southern parts of California, to Colorado on up to the states of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming then into the Pacific Northwest states of Oregon and Washington.
We’ll get started with the vast state of California. Many of the southern California morels will pop up in places you wouldn’t think possible. These are often referred to as landscape morels. Some of the mulch being used in these regions has been imported into the state from states where the morel is native. Thus some of this mulch has and will produce morels and often times for a couple years.
The majority of California morels are reported in the Central Valley region and the northern region of the state such as the Shasta Cascades, often elevation is key. The season can again be difficult to pinpoint as morels are reported from mid-March through mid-May – some of this can be attributed to hunting in various elevations.
Dan, who hunts his morels in Plumas and Lassen County in the northern part of California gives his feedback on the woods in which he hunts…“Mixed conifer to 100% fir and elevation of 4000 to 6000 feet. Red soil seems to be best. Recently logged forest.”
He also adds that while he will typically hunt in May, the weather will often extend the season in these elevations noting…“In the higher elevations you can expect snow drifts that block the roads. Sometimes the roads are blocked until late June or early July, so I never get to some areas until it’s too late.”
When looking at the historical sightings maps, it is easy to see there are not a lot of reports coming in from California compared to various regions in the Midwest, but rest assured morels are to be found. Hunt the burn areas, and as Dan had mentioned “the Forest Service has not logged for years“, so check with the private land owner’s and see if you can hunt their burn sites.
As we head north to the Pacific Northwest region (aka PNW) this becomes a hot spot for morels. Seasoned morel hunters will talk about finding them as early as mid-April at various elevations and the morel season can last well into the late part of June or early or often July. This elevation difference can make the season seem extended as compared to other regions. You will often hear sightings being reported with elevation statistics as this can be important on where you should be looking.
The techniques will also vary slightly from most of the other regions. You will often hear morel hunters talk about hunting the “burn areas” where the wild-fires have scorched the land. These burn areas are often the spots where the commercial hunters tend to harvest their morels. In certain areas, permits or a commercial license are required with limits on how much one can harvest. Some areas allow the casual hunter to gather up to three gallons of morels a day without a permit.
Julie H Case wrote a really good article you can find on Experience Magazine’s web page titled “Where wildfires once blazed, mushroom hunters thrive” where she writes about hunting the burn sites. Julie also chronicles her morel hunts on her website So I Gather.
The commercial morel hunting in this region is big business and local morel hunting is common. There is a great article from the US Forest Service –Pacific Northwest Research Station titled “Report PNW-GTR-710″ which contains a vast amount of information on PNW morels and it is strongly recommended to check out. It is a great read for more detailed information on morel and mushroom hunting in this region. Also well worth the read is “Ecology and Management of Morels Harvested – from the Forests of Western North America – Published in 2007”
In the great Pacific Northwest, natural morels are challenging to find or to provide the perfect environment to grow in, but morels can be found growing in substantial burn areas of high mountain evergreens…
Ronnie and Heather who are well renowned morel hunters in Central Washington were kind enough to offer quite a bit of information on their morel hunting skills in their neck of the woods. They go on to help explain some of the factors of hunting morels in this region…”In the great Pacific Northwest, natural morels are challenging to find or to provide the perfect environment to grow in, but morels can be found growing in substantial burn areas of high mountain evergreens with the understory being fallen needles. Burn morels tend to pop out in what mycophiles have fondly called “ash-holes” which are significant indentions in the earth caused by the falling of burnt trees’ root systems. They also tend to grow among the branches & pop out from underneath the charred logs. Since it is a mountainous area, elevation, patterns of the sun and snow melt are key factors.”
…night time in the 50s or use a soil thermometer. Moisture levels in the mountains of the PNW are not an issue when hunting in the spring/early summer as not only is their snow melt runoff, but precipitation.
The weather factors are just as important here as they are in all regions. It is pretty much been established that the morel likes the day time temps to be in the 60-70 degree range with night time temps in the 50s. Ronnie and Heather confirm this, and also add this comment, “…night time in the 50s or use a soil thermometer. Moisture levels in the mountains of the PNW are not an issue when hunting in the spring/early summer as not only is their snow melt runoff, but precipitation. Small window of time prior to the sun drying up the charred earth & stunting the morels or even worse, having mold attack them.”
There seems to be one missing element that all most every other region will mention, and that is the Elm tree. The Elm tree is not native to this neck of the woods. The Cottonwood bottoms along large rivers are favorite for many. The firs trees seem to get top mentions and older coniferous forests containing ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, grand fir, and spruce. Keep in mind – the morel will rarely be found above the tree line.
Dan and Heather also add that the competition in Washington can be “fierce as there are only so many burn areas that have accessible roads” and this tongue-in-cheek suggestion: “Move to Michigan for naturals or travel to Montana for burn morels!“
The Montana Outdoors website has a good article written back in 2004 by Ellen Horowitz which is really informational and specific to the Montana morels. You can read more by clicking here.
In closing, this vast region may very well offer up more variables than any of the other regions. Yet, for the most part these variables are much the same shroomers all over deal with – Mother Nature and her weather, add in the elevation factor, finding the hot spots and a little bit of good fortune – it is what morel hunting is made of.
Some related links:
- How to ID Five Common Northwest Trees
- McCall Chamber of Commerce – McCall Idaho
- Jackson Hole Magazine (Wyoming) – Magnificent Morels
- Where wildfires once blazed, mushroom hunters thrive