February is a good month for truffle hunting in Oregon’s forests. Black truffles are just coming into season, and ripe white truffles are still plentiful. The fungus can sell for $300 a pound or more, but this year truffle hunters say they’ve been shut out of some of their favorite spots.
Professional forager Eric Lyon leads a big black labrador into a stand of Douglas fir trees near the town of Banks.
“Where’s the truffle?” he asks the dog in a soft sing-song voice.
The lab is named Leroy. Leroy keeps his nose close to the ground. He’s on the scent of a truffle. He digs gently with one paw.
Lyon pulls a small Oregon white truffle from the spot where Leroy started to dig. It looks like a tiny, misshaped potato. “Great aroma! Oh, that’s a good one Leroy,” Lyon says.
Lyon says in past years, work with dogs like Leroy, he’s been able to collect many pounds of truffles in a weekend.
“With a dog, you can go back week after week, month after month, and selectively harvest only the ripe ones” he says.
This year, however, he’s struggling to find places to forage. Some of the best truffle territory is on privately owned tree farms in the coast range, and last year the Oregon Board of Forestry passed rules requiring truffle hunters to get permits.
“It’s become really difficult. Most of the large timber companies don’t offer permits for this activity or any mushrooms,” Lyons says.
Lyons says now he can only hunt for truffles on land that belongs to friends.
A employee at Starker Forests, which owns many groves in the coast range, confirmed the company does not give permits to truffle hunters. A spokesman with Weyerhauser did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The truffle season continues through June.