New advice for the months ahead: don’t bring flip-flops to a mushroom hunt.
Morel mushroom picking is set to grip communities in the NWT. Experts are promising hundreds of dollars a day to be made, with only basic harvesting skills necessary.
However, the Workers’ Safety and Compensation Commission (WSCC) is now trying to convince residents to treat mushroom picking like a real job, not a get-rich-quick vacation in the wilderness.
“Everybody runs off in the bush and does their thing, everybody thinks they are really savvy when it comes to working in the woods,” said Dave Grundy, the president and chief executive of the WSCC.
“But, really, you’re going into a territory that most people are not familiar with. Being in the woods and the bush at any given time can be a dangerous thing, especially here in the NWT.”
Grundy urges anyone planning on taking part in the harvest to be aware of their surroundings, act responsibly, leave alcohol behind, and take the work seriously.
“If you’re treating this as a job, then treat it as a job,” Grundy told Moose FM.
“I’ve seen people going out to do these sorts of tasks wearing flip-flops. You know, there’s a lot of burnt-out wood sticking up, you can get some serious foot injuries.
“You’re going into an area that’s not your own, it’s owned by the wilderness and wild animals.
“Yeah, there are dollars to be made and we encourage people to do that, but we encourage people to work very safely and be fully aware of their surroundings.”
Thanks to last summer’s severe forest fire season, the WSCC – like many experts – expects this year’s harvest to be among the biggest, and most lucrative, on record. Morel mushrooms grow particularly well in burn areas left behind by wildfires.
However, Grundy believes that could spell trouble ahead, if NWT residents and southern mushroom prospectors head into the wilderness en masse.
“This year is going to be quite unique,” he said.
“We’re expecting there to be more people involved, more people out there, more people infringing on other people’s plots, so to speak.”
Grundy wants individual workers to consider taking out “personal, optional coverage” with the WSCC for a fee of around $50. “Then if you happen to get hurt, you could receive some sort of benefit,” he said.
He also cautioned that employers have legal responsibilities when it comes to worker safety – and an ’employer’ could, he warned, simply be someone who invites friends to join them harvesting.
“If you are an employer – so if I’m going out and I hire two or three people to come with me, now I’m an employer – you have to register with workers’ compensation,” said Grundy.
“Then there are fees to be paid and you registering covers all the people working for you.”
The harvesting season is forecast to begin in mid-May in the South Slave, reaching the North Slave by the end of the month or early June.