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Threats against Skwlāx members escalate Shuswap mushroom conflict

Band asks province for ‘action plan’ for them and other wildfire affected areas
The problem of unauthorized mushroom pickers on Skwlāx land has escalated to the point of threatened violence, with the Band having asked for conservation officers and other agencies to help intervene. (BC Morel Mushroom PIckers-Facebook)

The problem of unauthorized mushroom pickers on Skwlāx lands has escalated to the point of threatened violence and requested intervention from the province.

Each spring, Skwlāx te Secwepemcúl̓ecw (formerly Little Shuswap Band) members traditionally harvest edible mushrooms on its lands. This year, the band said it is having increasing problems with outside pickers trespassing and not respecting the land or people.

In the wake of the Bush Creek East wildfire, the Band reports the situation has worsened with an abundance of morels that retail for about $50 a pound. The Skwlāx say if the mushrooms are on their land, they should have first rights to harvest them for traditional medicines and uses.

“A majority of the pickers are from outside the region. They aren’t aware of the historical background,” said Kukpi7 (Chief) James Tomma in a May 3 media release, adding the situation has gone well beyond just respect. “The weekend of April 27 to 28, there were two incidents involving pickers threatening Guardians with knives and firearms. As well, during their picking, they are setting up camps, chopping down trees, starting fires and leaving garbage.”

Tomma said he’s not only concerned for band members, but also the trespassing pickers as the land is still in a dangerous state post wildfire. He said that last week, as SteS Guardians – stewards of the territory who protect the land for everyone – were talking with one picker, “a second one walked into the forest and fell down a hole.”

Given the escalating situation, the Band has asked the provincial government to send conservation officers, non-commissioned officers (NCO) and Ministry of Environment protection crews to help.

As of May 3, the province had sent some officers to survey the situation, and are meeting to come up with a plan of action, which Skwlāx wants to be included in. The Band has already suggested check points, warning signs in the area and that people need to have a permit to pick, which would be monitored at the check points. They have also mentioned the possibility of putting up fences or barricades on the Lee Creek forest service road to limit access.

Tomma added that an action plan needs to be implemented not only for his Band, but for all areas affected by wildfire. There’s a BC Morel Mushroom Pickers Facebook page of people showing their harvests and sharing the “hot spots,” with the Shuswap and West Kelowna featured a few times.

“The mushroom pickers are the first of what could be a long, confrontational summer in this forest and others,” Tomma said. “Recreational users are going to be next to try and utilize the area, then the increased fire season – which is underway in some areas – followed by the fall mushroom season.”

Read more: Frustration grows with fungi foragers harvesting on band land in Shuswap

Read more: Skwlāx band in Shuswap takes first step home in wildfire recovery

About the Author: Heather Black

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