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Coastal Voices: Leave the mushroom pickers alone

Thank you for reporting both the good and bad of Professor Dennis Desjardin’s experiences back home (“Mushroom man: Ex-Del Norter has become fungi expert”).

I’m one of his admirers here in the Bay Area, and was dismayed to read about his recent run-in with the law there (but not entirely shocked, having heard similar stories elsewhere). I did a little research you might be interested in.

Redwood is a hybrid National and State Park, so the federal rules apply. The part of the Code of Federal Regulations they charged him under (which says nothing about fungi, however) contains this little gem: “as otherwise provided in this chapter.” Further reading reveals that the statute gives broad leeway to (federal) land managers to set rules for the collection of forest products (and to make all kinds of exceptions).

In the case of national parks and recreation areas, it’s up to the superintendents to set the rules, which are found in the Superintendent’s Compendium for each park; here it is for Redwood:


At the bottom of page 6, it gives the rules for collecting deadwood and limits for all species of edible berries (one gallon per person per day), apples (five per day) and acorns (10 gallons per day) and hazelnuts (one gallon). It doesn’t say anything about fungi.

The only other rules I found prohibiting collection are on page 5, under “Activities that Require a Permit,” which refers to “Specimen collection (take plants, fish, wildlife, rocks or minerals)” —  no mention of fungi here or anywhere else.

I think the only sane interpretation of these rules is that you can pick all the mushrooms you want in Redwood National and State Parks without a permit. According to our constitution, U.S. citizens are presumed to be free to do whatever they want, unless it’s specifically prohibited by law (as opposed to nations like China, where citizens are presumed to be allowed to do nothing without government permission, except things that are on the short list of officially approved activities).

Desjardin clearly should not have paid that ticket, and there was no need to appear in court. A letter to the court citing the law should have been sufficient.

Those officers should be reprimanded, although it sounds like their boss has the same bad attitude; after stating all the serious law-enforcement problems they have there, the chief ranger went on to say, “... a ranger comes upon you, it’s easy to say, ‘I was just moving them to take a photo.’ That puts us in a difficult spot because any criminal could say that they were just moving them to take a better photo. That really sounds kind of sketchy.”

What sounds sketchy to me is that he apparently thinks we’re all criminals, guilty until proven innocent. If they have all those serious problems out there, why are they wasting time and (federal) taxpayer money harassing a professor, or anyone for that matter, who is obviously not doing anything wrong? It’s ridiculous, and they should be ashamed of themselves.

Of course, it’s much easier to bully passive intellectual types than to get out there and try to catch real criminals, who may actually shoot at you, like that nut in Jackson State Forest. I realize that real cops do face dangers out there, but I expect them to show good judgment since we’re issuing them firearms.

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 you can 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.

We need to constantly assert our rights if we expect to keep them.

This story sure doesn’t make me want to visit the Redwood parks anytime soon, so you can thank your local National Park Service officials for discouraging tourism too.

David Lubertozzi is an Oakland resident.


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