MykoWeb Mushroom Blog

Paranoid Lunatics with Guns

Posted on 30 November 2011 by Michael Wood

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.

6 Responses to “Paranoid Lunatics with Guns”

  1. Dave Lubertozzi says:

    I hope you and Prof. Desjardin can find the time to fight this in court and generally make as big a stink about it as possible. The heavy-handed, macho, militaristic attitude of our law enforcement officers has gone from bad to way over the top. Once they decide you’re a “perp” rather than a citizen, forget about serve and protect and kiss any idea of being treated with respect goodbye – just ask the kids who got pepper sprayed at UC Davis last week, or the professors who got clubbed at UC Berkeley.

    I’m not an attorney, but jeez – for starters, what makes (I assume) CA park rangers think they can start charging people with federal offenses? Prof. Desjardin is also CA state public official; he was out there trying to do his job. If I were him, I’d ask an SFSU attorney to get on the horn with the DA’s office and tell them if they don’t drop the charge that he’ll show up in court and demand a jury trial and they’re going to have a public relations nightmare. Send this story to those same Del Norte reporters and let em run with it! Have them ask the cops’ boss for a statement. Write a letter complaining to the cops’ boss’s boss’s boss, and pass it around to distinguished colleagues for signatures. Work your degrees of acquaintance upward to powerful people who can put pressure on them to apologize. That’s morally acceptable because you’re not just using your influence to get out of a ticket (and all this will obviously cost a lot more time and money than just paying the fine) – you’re standing up for the oppressed myco-masses!

    I’ll be the first to donate $20 to the Desjardins Defense Fund!

  2. Jerome Rainey says:


    It’s horrifying that you were treated that way by people who are supposed to be serving you. Please count me in for the defense fund!

  3. Alan Rockefeller says:

    It is really disappointing to hear that Dennis won’t be fighting this case. It isn’t about the $125, it is about educating the rangers with regards to our right to photograph mushrooms. If the rangers have to go to court and lose, it would be a victory for all mushroom photographers in California. If he pays the ticket they will continue to harass people for photographing mushrooms.

    Should Dennis decide to hire a lawyer and fight the case I will donate $250 to his defense.

  4. Dulcie says:

    Astounding treatment by our ‘public servants’. For photographing mushrooms? They should be censured somehow, suspended, whatever. Don’t pay that fee, Denis!! I’m in for $50!! It’s just plain absurd!! – Dulcie

  5. Alan Biggs says:

    I try to get permit if I intend to touch anything in any of our federal parks, or at least check in at the park office first. Can’t be too careful around lunatics with guns…

  6. Rosa Terp says:

    Well, Mike, I guess you, Fred, and Dennis can say good bye to any chance that the NPS will allow your book to be sold in NPS visitor centers and gift shops. Over the years the NPS has shown itself to be utterly ruthless in suppressing points of view that are contrary to it’s dogma. Rest assured, you are now on their s#/t list. Which, all in all, is not a bad place to be 😉

    BTW, have you read “Playing God in Yellowstone” by Alton Chase. Well worth reading. Another book you’ll never find in an NPS store.

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