In late October Dennis Desjardin, Fred Stevens, my wife Jane, and I drove to the Crescent City area of California to photograph mushrooms for a forthcoming book. Dennis, Fred and I have a contract with Timber Press to publish a book called “California Mushrooms”. It will include keys, descriptions, and color photographs to about 650 species of California macro-fungi.
On Friday we collected on private property owned by friends of Dennis’ family. Mushrooms not as common as we expected, but there were enough in good condition to obtain many excellent photographs. In the morning we were accompanied by a reporter and photographer from the local paper, the Del Norte Triplicate. They were interested in doing an article about Dennis, who was raised in Crescent City. You can read the resultant articles here:
On the Saturday afternoon of our trip, we were in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. Dennis, Jane, and I were sitting on the forest floor, while Fred was off in another area. I had my camera on its tripod photographing some of the local fungi when two rangers approached us. They were not friendly; in fact their demeanor was immediately hostile. Basically they said “You are picking mushrooms. That’s illegal in this park. Show us your hands. Do you have any weapons?”
For 15-20 minutes we were required to sit there, our hands in plain view, and not allowed to continue our photography. During this entire time one of the rangers stood over us with his hand on his gun. The other ranger took our IDs and went to their truck to check our records. Dennis explained that he is a professor of mycology at San Francisco State University and that we were doing research for our forthcoming book. This only seemed to irritate the ranger. While he stood over us with his hand on his gun, the ranger told us about many of the severe problems they encountered in the park, like bodies being buried there and illicit drugs being grown or manufactured there. I’m thinking “With all these problems, why are you assholes harassing mushroom photographers and researchers”.
In the end, Dennis was cited under Title 36 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Section 2.1 (a) (1) (ii). Here is the text of the regulation:
§ 2.1 Preservation of natural, cultural and archeological resources.
(a) Except as otherwise provided in this chapter, the following is prohibited:
(1) Possessing, destroying, injuring, defacing, removing, digging, or disturbing from its natural state:
(ii) Plants or the parts or products thereof.
As readers of this blog, you probably already know that fungi are not plants! There is no mention of mushrooms or fungi anywhere in CFR Section 2.1, so there is no way our actions can legitimately be considered illegal. Dammit, mushroom (or plant) photography is not a crime! The ticket was for $125. To fight it, Dennis would have had to travel 300 miles from his home to federal court in Eureka, which was not feasible.
I have photographed mushrooms and other fungi in many state and national parks in many areas of North America. I have had numerous encounters with rangers, but never before have I encountered hostile rangers while photographing mushrooms.
As we were driving away from the “crime scene”, Jane turned to me and said “paranoid lunatics with guns makes me nervous”. They make me nervous too.