US Wild Mushroom Exports and Impacts (MUSHROOM)
CASE NUMBER: 94
CASE MNEMONIC: MUSHROOM
CASE NAME: MUSHROOM EXPORTS
1. The Issue
The harvesting of wild mushrooms in Pacific Northwest conifer
forests is a highly lucrative export to Japan and other Asian
countries. The demand in Japan, especially, stems from the fact
that much of Japan's conifer forests have disappeared, taking with
them the wild mushrooms that depend on the trees. The
environmental issue revolves around potential damage being done to
the wild mushrooms through over-harvesting, the timber that depends
on fungi and the state of the forests themselves, as well as the
conflict amongst harvesters, many of whom are migrant workers.
The picking of wild mushrooms in the pine forests of the
pacific Northwest has become a dangerous hobby. The large profits
to be gained by harvesters and buyers alike through export of the
precious commodity to Asia and Japan, and to a lesser extent,
Europe has lead to a lawless atmosphere of territorial protection,
theft from fellow pickers and two fatal shootings. The exact
amount of damage that is being done to the mushroom population by
over picking is still being debated. Nonetheless, damage to the
forest floor itself through reckless picking methods as well as
litter and trash left behind by the large number of pickers has
raised environmental concerns.
The majority of mushroom pickers are immigrants from Southeast
Asia (especially Cambodia) and Mexico. This has created problems
among the local population interested in profiting from the
mushrooms who are either longtime hobby pickers or unemployed
logging industry workers.
Finally, there seems to be some conflict among
environmentalists over the mushrooms in the Pacific Northwest. One
side is concerned about the long-term damage over picking and
reckless picking methods can do to the fungi of pacific northwest
forests. Many fungi are integral to a mutual relationship between
trees (especially Douglas Fir) and mushrooms called mycorrhiza (see
USWOOD case). The fungi wrap
themselves around the tree's roots while permeating a few of its
cells to form the mycorrhiza organ which allows nutrients from the
soil to pass into the tree. In return, the fungi receives the
organic compounds it needs to survive from the tree's
photosynthesis process. Thus, the destruction of fungi beds could
damage the forests.
On the other hand, the recent court orders that held the US
government in violation of its species protection laws has led to
a cessation in logging in much of the pacific northwest. During a
Clinton visit to the area in the spring of 1993, suggestions were
made as to how to achieve sustained employment in the region while
making sensible use of forest products. One of the forest products
named was the mushroom. While most in the US Forest Service would
deny that the mushroom business could totally supplant the
multimillion dollar logging business, the Forest Service has raised
some funds from mushrooming. Plans have been implemented using a
bidding system similar to that used in the logging industry, where
mushroom pickers would bid to gain access to a certain portion of
the forest. One ranger district (the Winema National Forest's
Chemult Ranger District) was able to raise $65,000 in picking
permits in 1993.
The trade data on wild mushrooms is limited. Essentially the
official data only tracks "Mushrooms & Truffles, Dried, Whole"
without desegregating the trade in mushrooms into wild mushrooms.
However, some have estimated the worldwide wild mushroom industry
at $250 million.
3. Related Cases
(1): Trade Product = FOOD
(2): Bio-geography = TEMPerate
(3): Environmental Problem = DEFORestation
There seems to be some fear by conservationists that over
picking of mushrooms can lead to damage to forests where such fungi
thrive. The timber products of a forest may be in danger if the
mycorrhiza roots, a symbiotic relationship between fungi and tree,
are damaged in the process of mushroom harvesting.
Another facet of the timber connection is that mushroom
harvesting has been touted by a few people as at least a partial
solution to the problem of unemployment in the Pacific Northwest as
a result of the ban on logging due to the timber-spotted own
dispute (see TIMOWL case).
Whether this is a credible solution or not, in point of fact,
unemployed timber workers are among those in the ranks of mushroom
4. Draft Author: Heather Boyles
B. LEGAL Clusters
5. Discourse and Status: DISagree and Allegation [ALLEGE]
There is no international disagreement or agreement in this
case. Any discourse seems to be taking place within the region of
the Pacific Northwest itself. Amongst environmentalists themselves
and between environmentalists and those involved in the business
there is disagreement about both the picking of mushrooms and those
hired to do the picking. The argument over the picking of the
mushrooms is whether picking per se or the methods with which
harvesting is done is harmful or not. The argument over those
Southeast Asian and Mexican migrants doing the harvesting tends to
be between locals and the migrant workers or their employers.
At best, there have been allegations through the press about
mushroom picking in the Pacific Northwest. Any steps that the
National Forest Service has taken to correct the situation are not
to be the result of legal proceedings, but of popular pressure from
the business community, environmentalists and the media through
6. Forum and Scope: USA and UNILATeral
Any legal proceedings that have taken place in this case are
the result of indirect events. For example, the Klamath County
Deputy Sheriffs department in Oregon has investigated the death of
a Cambodian mushroom picker in October of 1992. Likewise, local
authorities in the Blue Mountains of Oregon have investigated a
second Asian picker's murder in June, 1993. No arrests have been
made in either case.
These murder cases have lead to the regulation of weapons in
the mushroom picking areas. This includes citations and
confiscation of weapons for pickers found illegally harvesting
mushrooms, carrying guns and/or machetes and knives.
In addition, some of the national forests (thus a national
organization, The US Forest Service) have begun to regulate and
issue permits for the harvesting of wild mushrooms. These permits
are directed at commercial harvesters. Roughly 750 commercial
permits were issues in 1993 at the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest
in northeast Oregon. Finally, some have recommended that the
Internal Revenue Service, Immigration and Naturalization Service
and even the Commerce Department become involved in regulating
commercial harvesting of wild mushrooms.
Involvement of the National Forest Service may be considered
at the national level, but any regulatory measures so far are being
taken on a forest-by-forest basis. In fact about half of the 19
national forests involved in wild mushroom harvesting phenomenon
has begun to issue commercial picking permits costing from $1 a day
to $100 a season.
7. Decision Breadth: 1 (USA)
Since there are no real allegations involved, the number of
parties involved is difficult to determine. Groups aligned on
either side of the issue may be the only way to assess the extent
of involvement. In this case, it would be the pickers (in Oregon
alone estimated at 2,000 full time and 1,600 weekend and overall
estimated in 1993 at 8,000 (U.S. Forest Service) and buyers against
the environmental groups that have attempted to bring attention to
the problem (a handful of groups at best).
8. Legal Standing: LAW
This case may have the potential to be included in a national
law if, say the wild mushroom was included under the US Endangered
Species laws. More realistically, mushroom harvesting may become
regulated under National Forest Service rules.
C. GEOGRAPHIC Cluster
9. Geographic Locations
a. Geographic Species Domain: North America [NAMER]
b. Geographic Site: Western North America
c. Geographic Impact: USA
Wild mushrooms are most commonly found in the pine forests of
the Pacific Northwest, including Oregon, Washington state and
British Columbia. Confrontation in this case exists in the forests
of the Northwest where commercial crime, which is a result of the
extremely high prices paid for wild mushrooms. In addition,
conflict takes place in the forests between those who advocate the
picking of wild mushrooms and those who say it is destroying the
forest and/or the mushroom crop.
The area of impact of any potential legal instruments would
also be in the forests themselves. Since there is no direct trade
conflict with the countries such as Japan and Europe which are
importing the wild mushrooms, the issue would be addressed directly
at the root of the concern, i.e. where the wild mushrooms are being
10. Sub-National Factors: YES
To the extent that localities begin regulating mushroom
harvesting would be a sub-national factor. Also, if the national
forests begin developing different policies toward mushroom
harvesting it would be sub-national in nature.
11. Type of Habitat: TEMPerate
Wild mushrooms grow in the very damp, mild climate of the
pacific northwest. Conifer woods are especially abundant in fungi,
because many of the varieties of mushrooms deemed exotic are found
beneath fir, hemlock and pines.
D. TRADE Clusters
12. Type of Measure: Regulatory Standard [REGSTD]
13. Direct vs. Indirect Impacts: INDirect
If legislation were to be introduced in this case, it would be
environmental legislation resulting in an indirect trade impact.
The primary cause of the allegations in this case is the
environmental impact the harvesting of wild mushrooms has on the
forests and on mushrooms. While the driving force of the
harvesting of these mushrooms is trade, it is not a direct
14. Relation of Measure to Environment Impact
A. Direct: YES MUSHroom
B. Indirect: NO
C. Not Related NO
D. Process: YES Species Lost Land [SPLL]
15. Trade Product Identification: MUSHrooom
16. Economic Data
Mushroom industry output is $35 to $50 million per year. The
size of the wild mushroom industry is difficult to calculate
because of the cash basis that most pickers and buyers operate on.
The State of Oregon in 1993 estimated the size of the industry at
$40 million. The industry has grown at about 12% since 1987.
Others estimate the entire industry in Oregon and Washington at $50
The National Forest Service has estimated the number of
commercial mushroom pickers at 8,000, up from a few hundred in the
late 1980s. Although not all forests are presently issuing
picking permits, some forests have begun to do so and are reporting
those numbers. Chemult Ranger District in Winema National Forest
sold over 3,000 picking permits as of Oct. 1 in 1993. This
resulted in earnings of about $65,000 for the forest. The Wallowa-
Whitman National Forest in northeaster Oregon had issues 750
permits as of June 1, 1993. Mushrooms have two growing seasons,
spring and fall.
The North American Truffling Society estimates that an acre of
conifer forest abundant with mushrooms can produce more than
$240,000 worth of truffles every year. Mushrooms sell in Japan for
any where from $50 to $100 per pound, especially for the Matsutake
17. Impact of Measure on Trade Competitiveness: LOW
As of present, there is no restriction on international trade
in wild mushrooms. However, given that picking permits may be
instituted to control the amount of mushroom harvesting taking
place, the price of the mushrooms could rise substantially. No
price effect has been calculated as a result of these measures.
18. Industry Sector: FOOD
19. Exporters and Importers: USA and JAPAN
The worldwide wild mushroom industry is estimated
conservatively at $250 million. The North American market for wild
mushrooms many times smaller than the Japanese and European
markets. The United States tends to buy fresh or canned white
button mushrooms grown commercially. Therefore, the bulk of wild
mushrooms picked in the United States are being exported.
E. Environment Clusters
20. Environmental Problem Type: DEFOResattion
Deforestation is threat in this case as explained above
through the relationship of the mycorrhizial roots of the trees and
fungi. The most valuable timber tree in the northwest, the Douglas
fir, would not grow without its mycorrhizial fungi say
ecologists. To the extent that harvesting practices of wild
mushrooms harm these underground roots, certain types of timber may
be in danger.
While this is a hypothetical concern, Europe has experienced
forest die-offs (blamed on air pollution) which also include the
loss of many mushroom varieties. The truffle market, another wild
mushroom, is especially large in France and Italy. There have been
various reports of over-harvesting in southern France. Therefore
the mushroom may be further in danger from deforestation as well as
21. Name, Type, and Diversity of Species
Diversity: 1, 059 higher plants per 10,000 km/sq (USA)
There are several different varieties of fungi that are being
harvested as wild mushrooms. These include: morels, white
truffles, chicken of the woods (a bracket fungus), hedgehogs,
chanterelles, bolete, and matsutake (tricholoma magnivelare).
22. Resource Impact and Effect: LOW
The Forest Service itself says the resource impact of the
harvesting of wild mushrooms is extremely difficult to measure.
Because the majority of the fungi grow underground (the portion
being harvested is merely the fruit of the fungi, the mechanism of
reproduction) ecologists have no idea if 5 percent or 95 percent of
the mushrooms are being picked. In fact, some say that there is
little evidence, so far, that picking mushrooms does harm to the
fungi. However, the method of picking is what is most often in
The Forest Service also says that the factors involved in
deforestation are very difficult to pinpoint. It is practically
impossible to pinpoint the fungi/timber symbiotic relationship as
a cause of deforestation.
23. Urgency of Problem: LOW
In fact some studies may show that picking could actually be
stimulating mushroom productivity. These are, however, short-term
studies. The effects of destructive harvesting practices have also
not been studied.
While drought and other factors (acid rain, deforestation)
affect mushroom crops, mushrooms are generally able to be picked
every year as long as the underground portion of the fungus remains
24. Substitutes: LIKE
Wild mushrooms are considered a delicacy. The majority of the
mushroom business is concentrated in commercially grown white
button mushrooms. Such mushrooms are a like alternative to wild
F. OTHER Factors
25. Culture: YES
In some cultures, Italy, France, Eastern Europe, Japan, China
and Russia along with most of Asia mushrooms are a traditional part
of the cuisine. Mostly a matter of taste, these mushrooms are
highly sought after by most Asian cultures resulting in prices up
to $128 a pound or $9 a slice.
Secondly, much of the controversy surrounding the picking of
wild mushrooms has to do with the Asian immigrants who do the
picking. The method of harvesting is what harms the fungi and
Asian immigrants have been accused of being particularly
destructive. On the other hand, some say that Asian pickers are
even more careful when harvesting wild mushrooms.
Finally, the forests where many wild mushrooms are being
picked are also ancestral mushroom areas of the Karuk Indians. One
Karuk leader says that confrontations in the woods are not a
rarity. Discussions were scheduled to be held between tribal
leaders and US Forest Service Officials on June 2, 1993.
26. Trans-Boundary Issues: NO
27. Human Rights: YES
A potential human rights issue is the plight of the migrant
workers who come to the pacific northwest to harvest the mushrooms.
Two Asian immigrants have already been shot to death in Oregon.
Some believe that Asian immigrants bear nationalistic grudges
against one another, especially the Cambodians, which contributes
to the level of violence seen in recent years.
28. Relevant Literature
"Agencies Scramble to Produce Forest Plan." Reuters Business
Report. May 28, 1993.
Associated Press. "Interest in Mushrooms Grows as Timber Output
Falls." Chicago Tribune. May 24, 1993.
Banse, Tom. "Mushrooms Yield Cash and Violence in Pacific
Northwest." United Press International. September 16,
Conover, Kirsten A. "America Goes Wild for Mushrooms." The
Christian Science Monitor. February 3, 1994.
Egan, Timothy. "Rushing to Gather up Cash on Northwest's Forest
Floor." The New York Times. June 28, 1993.
Evans, Larry. "Life in the Fungal Jungle; Economic Value of
Truffles." Buzzworm. July, 1993.
Glamser, Deeann. "Flavorful Fungi Spawn a Mushrooming War:
Popularity Causes Crime in the Forest." USA Today. June 1,
Kaesuk Yoon, Carol. "Lucrative Harvesting of Edible Mushrooms
Puts Supply in Danger." The New York Times. July 28, 1992.
Knickerbocker, Brad. "Pacific Mushroom Business Attracts Tax
Evasion, Competitive Violence." The Christian Science
Monitor. June 1, 1993.
Lipske, Mike. "A New Gold Rush Packs the Woods in Central
Oregon." Smithsonian. January, 1994, 24/10, 35-45.
MacDonald, Sally. "The Mushroom Rush of '93 Is On: Competition
Is Thick, But Fungi Aren't." The Seattle Times. October 30,
Still, Larry. "Lawyers Vow Clear-cut Case Showing Clearcuts
Illegal: Charter Rights Argued in Trial of Logging Foes." The
Vancouver Sun. February 11, 1994.
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