Although it may have seemed like there was a lot of chaga out there back in 2012, the chaga that we were seeing on the trees represented our total chaga inventories for the next 20 years. By indiscriminately harvesting it we put ourselves out of work for many years. The notion that we can return to the same tree every three years is a fallacy. If a chaga conk takes 15 years to grow to maturity (and many take much longer then this) then if we harvest it every 3 years we haven’t collected more chaga, we’ve just made harvesting the conk 5 times harder because we visited it 5 times over a 15 year period instead of once when the conk was fully grown.
To put it in more concrete terms, in the Nipissing area where I’m from, we can safely extract about 2500lbs of fresh chaga annually. This number is based on an analysis of the total number of birch trees that are at least 80 years old, and based on an average yield of 1/3 kg of chaga per hectare. However, in total, the harvesters in our area had been harvesting chaga at a rate of about 7500lbs per year. Consequently most chaga locations had been effectively harvested at least once by 2017.
By 2017, most harvesters were working about 4 to 5 times harder to find that chaga. But most importantly, the maximum amount of chaga that could possibly be harvested from the area was still only about 2500lbs per year because that is how much ‘new’ chaga regrows each year. Indiscriminate harvesting puts a harvester out of work. I know a more than a few in my area who fit that picture. I don’t need to mention names. They know who they are.
Harvesters who co-operate with one another will be able to share information about where they’ve been and decide together how much they can sustainably harvest. Those harvesters who think they can do better on their own will very quickly find that chaga harvesting is not profitable.
And now with new information coming back that chaga is NOT regenerating, cooperation will be even more important than ever. (Please read “Why chaga is disappearing.”)