The ?Esdilagh First Nation (Alexandria) is banning mushroom picking from certain parts of their traditional territory impacted by wildfire this summer.
Citing concerns over the sensitivity of the area, and past experiences with mushroom pickers, the nation is instituting a “No Go Zone” in the region affected by the West Fraser Complex wildfire area, near the West Fraser Road.
The area is slightly to the south-west of the band, and includes the Castle Rock/Twan Lake South Wildfire area, near Tingley Lake, Twan Lake and Mcqoi Lake.
“We are stewards of the land and waters,” says Chief Victor (Roy) Stump.
“We expect all visitors to respect this No Go Zone for harvesters in 2018, and the decisions of our land officers in the field.”
Morel mushrooms – a delicacy – pop up in abundance during the spring in the year after a wildfire, growing in the places the fire has burned. The mushroom often draws traveling harvesters to wildfire-affected areas, eager to find and sell the tasty fungi.
While the band is banning mushroom pickers from the West Fraser Complex, they are offering permits for harvesting and camping for both mushroom pickers and buyers operating in ?Esdilagh territory, provided they are operating in areas burned by other fires.
The nation is encouraging pickers to head to areas less sensitive to them, like the Plateau Fire, which burned an estimated 521,012 hectares in the Chilcotin over the summer.
They want to protect the West Fraser Complex area for reasons both ecological and cultural.
The lakes are important for both the endangered pelican species and as moose habitat – ?Esdilagh instituted a ban on the moose hunt during the fall of 2017.
Additionally, the area includes traditional burial grounds the nation also wants to protect.
“We don’t want to put any more pressure in that area where there has been destruction by the fir beetle. The wildfire ripped through last year and hit so many hectares of it, and we are already at a declining moose population – that is proven,” says ?Esdilagh band manager and mushroom committee member Chad Stump.
“We have so much road access into ?Esdilagh’s territory and we just can’t allow it to happen any more. We have to step up to the plate and be the first ones to say, ‘Enough is enough’.”
In 2010, when the Meldrum Creek fire approached ?Esdilagh territory, the band saw mushroom pickers come the following year, creating what Stump calls a “mess.”
“The fear is not that mushrooms are going to be damaged, the fear is that other people will come and make the mess and damage the already damaged habitat, and poach what moose we have left, poach animals, bring harmful substances to our communities and do these illegal activities out on the land we use to live.”
Stump said the plan is to enforce the ban through an agreement they have with the RCMP and conservation officers, and that ?Esdilagh is also reaching out to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. Chief Victor Stump is calling on the government to use the ban as an opportunity to move forward with reconciliation and to work together with the public and governments.
The band is also in the planning stages of training community members as land officers, in back roads safety, first aid, approaches to dealing with certain situations, and how to guide and monitor potential pickers to areas where they will be allowed to harvest.
“What it really boils down to is that this specific area is all we have left in regards to our traditional area,” says Daryl Johnny, who is managing the mushroom committee.
“Industry has wiped out the rest of our area, with harvesting the pine bug, and now that the fir bug is coming, the declining of the moose population, we are losing our fish habitat – we are losing every single thing our resources relied on, what we’ve lived on all our lives. This is our last time to step up.”