Disturbance Morels and Forestry Contracting Maps

Experienced morel hunters, across the entire continental USA (CONUS), know that their beloved Morchella often thrive in disturbed areas – not just in old wildfires! Morels often seek out disturbances that result from forestry management: cuts, thins, controlled burns, road and trail building, power line activity, etc.

We have added new maps in our membership area that we call “Stewardship Maps”.  These maps show all the places that the federal government has hired contractors to create disturbances in forests. Another word used to describe to this forestry practice is “silviculture” which implies the objective is the growth and management of trees.

In our 2023 stewardship maps, we show areas subject to silviculture or forestry contracts that were completed in 2020, 2021 and 2022. Each year is color coded slightly differently and allows the transparency to be adjusted. All the lower 48 states are included in our data. The maps only show activity on federal lands – not state, local or tribal.

forestry contracts 2020 2021 2022 for morel hunting with satellite overlay

We provide 4 basemaps: USFS, Google Satellite, Google Terrain and Google Road Maps.

What is Stewardship Contracting?

Ideally, stewardship contracting facilitates land restoration and enhancement by using traded goods (ie, lumber) in exchange for important work on the ground.

Timber sales, or logging, can range from clear cutting to selective cuts to simple thinning. Logging operations typically offer the most opportunity for morel hunters due to the high degree of disturbance that cutting and removing trees causes. The ideal logging is a “thinning” or “selective” contract because after the the work there are still many standing trees which leave more shade in the forest for morels to grow under.  

Stewardship contracts often have a 10 year lifespan to allow the contractor time to arrange financing, equipment, and actually get the job done. This creates a data reporting challenge, since the date when work was completed is not always clear. There are two main challenges in the reporting:

  1. Reporting is done by each individual forest unit; they tend to be a bit irregular in their habits and may not even report immediately.
  2. Contractors typically report the completion date for the whole contract, and it is always possible that certain parcels within a large contract were logged in previous years.

If you click on colored stewardship areas in the map, it will launch a popup that provides full details on that particular bit of work and hopefully provide enough insights to drive your decision to scout or not.

Are disturbances better in the first year?

Opinions on this differ among morel hunters. Some prefer disturbances that are few years old, and yet others prefer a fresh cut.  You’ll have to decide what works best for you! Realistically you will need to put boots on the ground and plan on some scouting time – targeting likely disturbances from the last three years. Try to develop an eye for how long ago the contracting happened.

Personally, I look for 1st and 2nd year disturbances. First year disturbances often still have greenish trimming laying about with no decomposition. In year two, all the residual green has turned brow, fallen to the ground, and started to decompose. Often, at least in the West, slash piles are burned a year or two after they are created – and burnt slash piles are also worth checking out.

What else do you look for in disturbances?

Forest stewardship often necessitates the creation of forest roads which offer world-class disturbances. Anytime a road has been made or a large forest vehicle has torn up the earth, you’ve got a good place to look. These are great places to dip in and scout to see if any morels are growing. This also means that those “stewardship lines” where contractors have cleared a long path along a stream, border, power line or road can be money.

On the digital map, I usually look for awesome forest before the forestry activity. I also like to reference our tree maps in the west and look especially for Douglas firs and Grand firs. One helpful piece of info in our digital maps is “Method” which might say “Tractor Logging” and Equipment which might say “Ribber tired skidding logging.”  I especially like when heavy equipment is used as the large tires or treads cause soil disturbance.

Ultimately, as I said earlier, due to all the variability in stewardships, one must really scout the acreage to determine morel suitability. Our maps are there to help you find the areas to scout.

When should we look for disturbance morels?  

In the Western states commercial hunters tend to target disturbance morels before burn morels are popping. These morels, which are likely Morchella snyderi, tend to fruit at slightly lower soil temperatures and elevations among Douglas Firs and other conifers. 

Understanding Forest Management Terms

If you use our Stewardship Maps, you’ll see these terms commonly attached to incidences. I’ve given general descriptions of typical types of forest management activities below.

What is a thin (aka “juvenile spacing” or “spacing”)?

A thin generally refers to cuttings made in immature stands with the objective of reducing stand density in order to stimulate the growth of the remaining trees.

What is a commercial thin?

In commercial thinning, the immediate value of the removed trees pays the thinning costs. It is an intermediate treatment where some trees are harvested for useful products while others are left to continue growing. If the value of the trees does not return enough to pay thinning costs, the practice is considered a pre-commercial thinning.

Partial cuts are often called “Intermediate Cuts” – as opposed to “Regenerative Cuts” as described below in clearcutting. The density of acceptable, undamaged trees after intermediate cutting must meet or exceed the minimum stocking standards contained in the Forest Plan, which are often specified by forest type or working group. 

What is a salvage cut?

A salvage cut may be partial (or Intermediate), or “clear” and refers to when trees are removed or felled from a stand after a windstorm, wildfire, insect and disease damage, or other environmental factors.

What is a coppice cut?

Coppicing is a traditional method of woodland management which exploits the capacity of many species of trees to put out new shoots from their stump or roots if cut down. This is often an effective way to regenerate a forest for these species. In a coppiced wood, which is called a copse, young tree stems are repeatedly cut down to near ground level, resulting in a stool. This can potentially be prime disturbance morel territory, depending on the local tree species, especially when heavy equipment is involved.

Clearcutting and its many types – stand, patch, and regenerative

Clearcutting is removing all live trees from acreage. But many variations exist. A strip clearcut leaves strips or lines of trees. A seed/shelterwood clearcut leaves 6-12 trees per acre to reseed the acreage. Usually “patches” are under 2 acres, and “stands” are over 2 acres. 

Clear cutting is often euphemistically called “regenerative cutting”. Per the United States Department of Agriculture:

“National Forest Management Act regulations require that harvested areas be adequately restocked within 5 years of final harvest (36 CFR 219.27). For a regeneration cutting method involving a series of cuts – seed-tree, shelterwood, selection, and overstory removal cutting – the 5-year requirement begins when the removal cut is made. The tree density immediately after a removal cut must meet or exceed the minimum stocking standards contained in the Forest Plan, or it must be attained within 5 years of the removal cut.”

The following abbreviations are commonly used:

  • 2A = Two ages (two-aged silvicultural system)
  • EA = Even aged (even-aged silvicultural system)
  • UA = Uneven aged (uneven-aged silvicultural system)
  • FH = Final harvest
  • RH = Regeneration harvest
  • RN = Regeneration need created
  • NFH = Not final harvest
  • NRH = Not regeneration harvest
  • NRN = No regeneration need created

Learn more here: https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5413732.pdf

What is a broadcast burn?

This a prescribed burn that is ignited in areas with little or no forest canopy present. Broadcast burning is used in grasslands, scrublands, and oak woodlands for habitat restoration and fuels reduction purposes. Usually not a target for morel hunting.

What is pile burning?

A prescribed fire used to ignite hand or machine built piles of cut vegetation resulting from vegetation or fuel management activities. Piles are generally burned during the wet season to reduce damage to the residual trees and to confine the fire to the footprint of the pile. Pile burning allows time for the vegetative material to dry out and will produce less overall smoke by burning hot and clean. We have never seen them, but, morel hunters report finding morels around these pile burns the year after they burned.

What is a prescribed burn/fire or understory burn or underburning?

Understory burning/underburning: is a prescribed fire ignited under the forest canopy that focuses on the consumption of surface fuels but not the overstory vegetation. Underburning is generally used following a pre-treatment such as thinning and /or pile burning to further reduce surface fuels, help maintain the desired vegetation conditions, and enhance the overall health and resiliency of the stand. They are always worth checking out for both burn morels and disturbance morels. Burn morels are more likely in places where the fire has gotten away from its scope and killed some larger trees, however burn morels can also be found around scorched trees, large and small.

Learn More

Our forest disturbance (Stewardship) maps are part of our overall burn morel mapping project and are available to all our members (you must be logged in to access this link).

Anyone can become a member by signing up for our burn morel maps. 

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