Oregon’s Rail Fire
This was the first burn site we visited on our trip – we spent 3 days hunting morels here. This fire is 5 miles west of Unity Oregon in the Wallowa-Whitman and Malheur National Forests. It was huge: over 40 thousand acres were contained in September 2017. We hunted this area June 19th – 21st, 2017 under a “commercial” permit registered at the Ranger Station in Baker City ($20 per person).
During our visit to this burn, we faced drying conditions – it seemed new mushrooms weren’t likely to start popping. Sun-drenched areas did not have mushrooms but shadier spots were holding some freshies. The ground was beginning to get crunchy and dusty as it was very hot and sunny. There was a localized rain storm the last evening we were there. Little did we know, that would be the last rain we would see for over two weeks!
Many commercial pickers were active in this burn, and we learned later that their numbers were growing as other Pacific Northwest fires were drying up even faster. Commercial pickers were generally heading to higher elevations – driving past us in the mornings and evenings during their coming and goings. Kristen and I stayed at lower elevations, finding a second flush of smallish sized morels which were relatively fresh and bug-free.
Second Flush: When an area that fruited earlier fruits a second time, typically because it received additional moisture and friendly weather
Lay of the Land
Upon our arrival at camp we decided some scouting was in order. This entails stopping and checking a few spots at different elevations and aspects. We quickly established that South and West facing slopes were not likely producers and that mushrooms would have the best chance on Northern and Eastern facing slopes because they were less sunny and therefore held water longer. Additionally the morels in this burn seemed to favor:
- “darker” areas (shady)
- “riparian” areas (along creeks)
- Douglas Firs (as opposed to Pines)
- moderate to steep slopes
- the cover of small trees with brown needles (dying trees but not totally burned away)
They also ran in “veins” or clumps that would run up and down in elevation.
What we didn’t do
We didn’t scout higher elevations! We probably should have, but, in the time we had in the burn we were pretty satisfied to pick a large number of small but fresh mushrooms in those conditions. If we had stayed a bit longer, we would have definitely headed up-hill to see what the commercial pickers were chasing. At the end of the day, we enjoyed the spots we were picking because they were close, convenient and not too steep.
How did we Scout? I assumed that the mushrooms would be in the 4.5-5K range while we were there. Prior to the trip, I created a colorized topo map based upon USFS maps. The color highlights the elevation range we want to hunt, in this case a red-to-blue gradient with blue representing 5K. This is my “big picture” map to figure out where I want to focus. I also make maps for higher and lower elevations in case I am wrong about starting elevations… but this map worked in May, 2017.
This is a closeup detail of the big map map above. After a few initial hikes, we focused on creeks that were running East/West – can you see three of them? We would generally walk up the Southern side of those creeks because they are North facing, or have a Northern aspect.
You can learn more about the Rail fire at the InciWeb report on the fire or you can download our ebook on hunting burn morels in the Pacific Northwest. Please view our photo album below:
Hi I found your information very helpful and wanted to know if the tail fire will produce mushrooms this year (2018) I was in unity, Or around May 2017. Thanks Tom
Hi Tom…Many morel hunters like to visit burns in year two and do well. I have never scored big doing that, but, I never really hit them at the right time either. They also say that if the weather or conditions limit the flush in the year after the burn, the second year may be good. We had a very dry year last year (2017) and I think many burn areas didn’t flush well last year and might pop this year (2018). It might be a good year to investigate those year two burns. That said, I do this about two weeks every year and have a hard time justifying visiting a year-two burn unless I am just in the neighborhood. With all the crazy fires last season I will probably not be visiting any year two burn areas this year.