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'The worst mushroom year': Vancouver Island pickers blame poor harvest on summer drought

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A lack of rain on Vancouver Island this summer and fall is making things difficult for mushroom pickers who are usually able to find a bounty this time of year.

Generally, this far into October, collecting mushrooms is literally a walk in the forest. But this year is proving more difficult.

"This is an exceptionally dry year," said Thom O'Dell, a fungi educator who has been collecting mushrooms for more than 40 years.

O'Dell even has the honour of naming a new species he and some others first discovered.

"The Cantharellus cascadensis. We named it after the Cascade range where it was discovered," said the Vancouver Island man.

O'Dell says he's finding far fewer chanterelles than he'd expect at this time of year, though he does stumble across some lobster mushrooms.

"It's not the most photogenic," he said with a laugh. "But these are some of the early ones that would normally come up with the summer rain."

O'Dell's problem finding mushrooms is being felt up and down Vancouver Island.

"I've been in B.C. for 20 years now and this is the driest year I've experienced," said Kem Luther with the South Vancouver Island Mycological Society.

"It's also the worst mushroom year," he said.

DELAYED SEASON

While there's fewer mushrooms around than usual, the mycological society says there are still some to be found.

"If you get onto the west side of the island, up to some kind of altitude like up at Mount Washington, [you can find some]," said Luther.

"I found lots of mushrooms around Ucluelet," he said.

There's also good news for pickers who are willing to travel farther afield.

"Prices would be very high. So if you have spots that are reliable on the West Coast where there's more fog drip, you're probably getting a better price per pound," said O'Dell.

Mushroom pickers are hoping the situation will turn around as rain comes to the island, though the overall season is expected to be shorter.

"The rains are late coming, the mushrooms are late coming, will we have a season?" said Luther.

"We could have a couple of weeks here, but as soon as the hard frosts come that's pretty much it," he said.

So for now, mushroom pickers are on the hunt for whatever species they can find. 

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