A repentant visitor to a National Park

Matthew Cobb manages to find this stuff, since he does the Twi**erz and I don’t.

The Park Service’s explanation from the Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Parks Facebook Page:

Have you ever wanted to take a pine cone home from the park? It’s actually against park rules to do so. Why? It’s a tough environment here. The animals need their nibbles and the area needs the seeds and vegetation. Also, cones and other plants deteriorate and help to create soil in this rocky environment.

Check out this note that we received from a young visitor. It isn’t a pine cone – it’s a Giant Sequoia cone, of course. But we are so glad this young person thought about the park’s preservation messages. Thanks for leaving Sequoia and Kings Canyon Parks as you found them. And, thanks for sending this back, buddy! (Photo Credit: Meredith Elgart)



  1. Florian
    Posted June 6, 2016 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    But it looks like they just stuck it up on the office bulletin board and didn’t put it back in the forest at all. 😦


    • GBJames
      Posted June 6, 2016 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

      Maybe we only have the “before” picture of a “before and after” pair of photos?

  2. Ken Kukec
    Posted June 6, 2016 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    The environmental counterpart to micro-lending. Let’s hope it’s as effective.

  3. Posted June 6, 2016 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints — and try to minimize those too!

  4. Posted June 6, 2016 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    one of my rotating email sigs comes from one of the park’s trail signs:

    “the mountains are indifferent to your survival.”

    • ploubere
      Posted June 6, 2016 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

      I like it because it’s true.

    • Diane G.
      Posted June 6, 2016 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

      Pretty thoughty for a NP sign. I like!

  5. John Conoboy
    Posted June 6, 2016 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    There is the story told that if you take petrified wood from Petrified Forest National Park you will have bad luck. They have a display in the visitor center of letters received from people who took a piece and then had something bad happen, so they return the wood in the hope that it will make everything better.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted June 6, 2016 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

      Similar story about taking any lava from Kilauea on the Big Island in Hawaii. Madame Pele will not be happy and give you bad luck. I have a piece and did not send back so that’s my luck.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted June 7, 2016 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

        If you have due reverence for the majesty of the volcano and the way that volcanism has literally built the ground under all our feet, then the wrath (Wraith?) of Lady Pele will be converted to flattered attention. Geologists never get this sort of bad luck, because we really appreciate what we are taking.
        At least that’s my line if the Warden catches me. Not that I let the Warden catch me. Then again, I don’t even think about collecting from really important sites.
        Practical criterion : if the holder of the cursed stone/ cone/ whatever can give an impromptu 15 minute dissertation on what the specimen is, where it came from, what it represents, and how it relates to other specimens in the rock pile / cone mountain. herbarium/ “cabinet of curiosities” ; then the non-existent spirits of nature are adequately mollified. But you have to perform this sacrifice repeatedly.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted June 7, 2016 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

      Incidentally, just a couple of weeks ago I was “curating” a “rock pile” that had been left to Dad’s local “Natural History Society” to do with as they wished. Some specimens had explanatory notes in their boxes ; some boxes had spit and the separated notes and specimens needed to be reconnected. And some were simply lumps of rock. I reckon there were at least 3 lumps of “petrified wood,” made appropriate notes, and someone who knows the widow will be enquiring if they’d ever been to America, and if so where.
      Of course, it’s equally possible that he brought them at a shop or in a show somewhere. There was a “Green River Knightia” in the collection too, all nicely trimmed-off so I suspect he’d been to at least one dealer. Or ebaY.

      • Diane G.
        Posted June 7, 2016 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

        Petrified wood only occurs in America?

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted June 7, 2016 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

          Agreed, there are some fine examples in – is it somewhere in Arizona. But silicified “wood” goes back as far as “wood” does. One of the crucial sets of fossils comes from a rarely-exposed site at Rhynie (it’s one of those fossil sites that the precise location of is on a “need to know”.)
          It’s not as pretty as the Petrified Forest stuff – stem diameter is only about a millimetre ; up to 5mm high. But it is vastly more important to the history of land plants. And animals. There’s a conference on “current research” a couple of times a decade, and they sometimes acquire fresh material, if needed.)

  6. Michael Day
    Posted June 6, 2016 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    My family and I visited Sequoia National Park a few years back, and one of the first things my daughter (about 7 at the time) did was to pick up a sequoia cone. She asked a ranger if she could keep it, and the “roolz” were explained. Much more impressive were the cones of the sugar pine, which were all over the roads and were sometimes as long as my kids’ legs (maybe 18-20″ +).

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted June 7, 2016 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

      If Sequoia National Park gets a million visitors a year, and the trees produce a million cones a year with 100m of the roads and stopping places, then 1 cone per person can effectively stop replacement of the forests. I do understand the ranger’s POV.
      I just try to go to almost anywhere not like that.

      • Diane G.
        Posted June 7, 2016 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

        It’s your loss.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted June 7, 2016 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

          It’s a racing certainty that within an hour’s drive and a few hours walk of SNP, there are places as pretty, with under 100 visitors a year.
          The Grauniad had a puff-piece about the 10 best mountain huts in the world today. In the comments someone mentioned several places I know, including one where I fell through the ice into a waist-deep peat bog while walking to it one night. Given the choice between a place like that, and some box which you can drive to the door of and has electricity and wifi, well, there just is no comparison. Peat-bog city any day.
          (When I went back a couple of years later, there were no entries in the guest book for 4 days after my previous visit. Which, considering the weather, didn’t surprise me in the slightest. It taught me a valuable lesson: if you find something worth coming back for, then it’s worth carrying out now, because I never did find that 12-pointer stag’s skull again, despite the peat-bog trip.)

  7. Matt Jenkins
    Posted June 6, 2016 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    Talking of parks, this week’s New Scientist refers to the Kentucky Ark Park as run by Answers in Genesis, a “mythological re-enactment society”. I hope Prof. Coyne will help spread this description.

    • Diane G.
      Posted June 6, 2016 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

      Though “re-enactment” doesn’t seem to be quite the right word, being as how these myths never happened in the first place. 😀

      • Matt Jenkins
        Posted June 7, 2016 at 3:51 am | Permalink

        True🙂 On the other hand, they do go through it again and again.

        • Diane G.
          Posted June 7, 2016 at 4:20 am | Permalink

          And that is a great sentiment from NS.

      • Posted June 7, 2016 at 11:43 am | Permalink

        Same would apply to some folks who do US Civil War “reenactments”, I’d think, or wargamers who redo the battle of Staligrad😉

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted June 7, 2016 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

          Not precisely the same. There really was a Civil War and a Battle of Stalingrad, so there is a factual event that can potentially be re-enacted with whatever degree of accuracy.

          Of course, just how accurate the re-enactments are is questionable.


          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted June 7, 2016 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

            What proportion of “Civil” War re-enactors have the Confederates winning? Or at least, losing.

            • gravelinspector-Aidan
              Posted June 7, 2016 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

              Oops, typo.
              “NOT losing”.

  8. Posted June 6, 2016 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    Sending the pine cone back doesn’t help tho. It’s a waste of shipping money and park-department employee attention and is about a guilty conscious being appeased. there was recently a story about hundreds of people sending the chunks of petrified wood back to the forests they had “stolen” from and the parks geologists can not study the area by placing the rocks back… it’s impossible to put them back where they were found… so they just get this big pile of returned rocks and have to tolerate the Tourist guilt. Which means the rocks (nature experience) really meant something to the people visiting, and that’s special… but they don’t understand that the “damage” that has been done is done.
    Keep your confiscated cones and don’t take them in the first place.

    • Dominic
      Posted June 7, 2016 at 4:20 am | Permalink

      Good points.

      Humans are natural collectors. 19th century butterfly collectors drove some species to the verge of extinction in the British Isles by their passion, not nabbing one or two but tens or hundreds. I suppose if everyone took a pinecone there would be a serious threat to the ecosystem, but the harm done by just being there, tramping around, driving a car through a park & the associated carbon emissions is surely much worse?

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted June 7, 2016 at 5:51 am | Permalink

        “the harm done by just being there, tramping around, driving a car through a park & the associated carbon emissions is surely much worse?”

        Not necessarily. Trees don’t necessarily mind increased CO2 levels (as I understand it). Insofar as climate change is concerned, generating that much CO2 *anywhere* is equally bad, whether in a National Park or going to see a sports game.

        Whether tramping around could damage the tree roots again depends on the trees.


      • Posted June 7, 2016 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

        Uh oh! carbon emissions… too true. We should abandon the oil industry among other things by now but have built our dependencies.
        Our harm in “just being there” isn’t quite right tho. We are on the planet changing it because we are specific animals doing what we do. Perhaps our “flash in the pan” on earth is so short lived precisely because we can be so devastating and are supposed to be? That doesn’t sound right… I don’t mean to support greed and I’m personally into protecting nature, but Everything tends to migrate and shift and carry seeds and usurp structures adapt or die off, so I think we need to care deeply about balance and guardianship/stewardship but also realize we are what we are, not unlike a zika virus transferred by mosquitos to cull population after our pharmaceutical meddling.
        Forgive me, if thats terribly un- positive.
        I’ve been viewing the series by Stephen Hawking on PBS and we are so small! Yet it’s a beautiful hopeful series or learning and discovery and change… and not change. 🙂

        Thank you for the discussion.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted June 7, 2016 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

      so they just get this big pile of returned rocks and have to tolerate the Tourist guilt

      But when they need hand-sized rocks to fill in a pothole, make a soak-away for a septic tank, or whatever, there is a convenient pile by the ranger’s station.
      I don’t know if they sell specimens in the station (someone certainly sells the stuff “in the trade”), but if thy do … [looks at packet of pork sausages, and Petachuk]

      • Posted June 8, 2016 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

        Hmmm… that’s funny…not sure you’re correct about petrified rocks being used for potholes and septic tanks, Aidan. I know environmental clean up crews and that’s not their “rock-fill” of choice! 🙂

        Thanks for the pow wow. 🙂

  9. miohippus
    Posted June 6, 2016 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    I remember an essay by Gould about people returning items to parks that had been taken. I think it was in “Bully for Brontosaurus”.

  10. Kevin
    Posted June 6, 2016 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    I must have strange sense of science fiction terrorism, but my very first thought was biological sabotage. Like the person put a disease into the cone and once replaced would spread through the forrest causing mayhem and widespread death.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted June 6, 2016 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

      If you wanted to do that, you’d infect a number of cones and put them back yourself in carefully selected spots.


      • Diane G.
        Posted June 6, 2016 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

        Maybe not if it were some fast-spreading plant pathogen, or fast-reproducing insect pest. (I’ll bet sequoias are pretty much immpenetrable to bark beetles, though.🙂 )

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted June 7, 2016 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

      biological sabotage. Like the person put a disease into the cone and once replaced would spread through the forrest causing mayhem and widespread death.

      If you were in the UK in the mid-70s, you’d probably remember the opening sequence of “Survivors” (4? series)? As plausible then as today – despite the (primarily) Asian proliferation of poorly used and ineffective surgical masks.
      Personally, if I had a virus with good human-to-human transmission characteristics (aerosol, or persisting on surfaces), and I wanted to spread it, I’d go to London on a busy week day, and go for a pub crawl around the tube system – arrive in pub, inoculate my hands in the toilets ; fake washing my hands (spreading it around in the toilets – most people have bacteriologically counter-productive washing habits) ; have a pint (spreading it on the bar’s copy of the Scum, of course ; and all over bar stools, counter, handles) leave, take tube to next station and repeat at next pub. Next day, repeat procedure on a day trip to Paris via Hellrow. You could spread it a LOT at the security checks – when was the last time you saw anything there being wiped down apart from a customer’s baggage. Oh – I’d have to get my potion through security? Obviously, gel it up (probably done that already 😸 ) and put it inside a cleaned-out bottle for “Sanitising gel.”
      This is not rocket science. Actually, I came across a book online (Larry Niven’s “Goliath Stone”) of which I have the dead-tree version. A significant chunk of this is about how to spread nanorobots around the globe, sub rosa, so I’d been thinking about this a little.
      The limiting factor on bioterrorism isn’t the distribution, it’s the making of the biological agents.

  11. Posted June 6, 2016 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    It would be more fun if the Park Service’s folks tried to germinate a seed from this pine cone and plant it with a little marker with the pilferer’s name along with the rules.

  12. John Conoboy
    Posted June 6, 2016 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    There is a National Park area that almost no one has ever heard of, called Fossil Cycad National Monument. It no longer exists. Visitors picked up the fossils. The park superintendent even gave specimens to visiting dignitaries. Eventually, there was only one specimen left on display in the visitor center. It was stolen. The site was transferred from the National Park Service to the Bureau of Land Management. Apparently, some fossil cycads were later discovered.

  13. Wunold
    Posted June 7, 2016 at 12:12 am | Permalink

    Maybe the kid wasn’t repentant at all, but forced by his parent(s) to give back the cone and write that letter. The wording sounds a bit too stiff and artificial to me, especially the last sentence.

    • Dominic
      Posted June 7, 2016 at 4:32 am | Permalink

      I think you are being too harsh – that may well be the case – I hardly think the child spontaneously decided to do that!

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted June 7, 2016 at 5:54 am | Permalink

        I don’t think it matters much – either way, it seems the kid has learned a valuable lesson.


        • Wunold
          Posted June 7, 2016 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

          Yeah… don’t show your parents every find you make.🙂

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted June 7, 2016 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

            Yeah, that too.


  14. Posted June 7, 2016 at 6:15 am | Permalink

    So, we are supposed to believe that one shouldn’t take pine cones because they are “needed” for animal food, soil nutrition and vegetation and it has nothing to do with keeping the trademark trees of the park only inside the park?

    99.99% of the visitors will not stray from the path. 99% of the park will be free from any gleaning.

    You would think it would make good biological sense to have DNA get out of the park and into the wild.

    • Newish Gnu
      Posted June 7, 2016 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

      Not so much. They sell “Grow your own” kits in the gift shops.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted June 7, 2016 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

        I presume that’s ‘grow your own sequoia’ and not the usual ‘grow your own’ species…

        Do the kits include a warning about not planting the tree in a limited space?


        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted June 7, 2016 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

          There was a bit of a craze for planting Sequoia sp. in the Highlands in the late 1800s. There are sme amusingly (and dangerously) overcrowded stands now. I pedal faster when I go past one, particularly on windy days.

    • Diane G.
      Posted June 7, 2016 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

      “…and it has nothing to do with keeping the trademark trees of the park only inside the park?”

      Are you a USian? The trees have a much bigger range than just the area of those parks. Yeah, it does have nothing to do with keeping the trees in the park. Sequoias are widely used in landscaping as well.


      In the lava fields at Newberry Crater in Oregon you’re not allowed to take home any of the zillions of obsidian shards, either. Hordes of people really do destroy special environments.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted June 7, 2016 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

        Hordes of people really do destroy special environments.

        Starting at the planet and working down.
        My bet is that the sustainable population of humans on the planet is closer to 2 billion than the current 7+ billion. That implies in the order of 5 gigadeaths more than gigabirths, and in the near future.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted June 8, 2016 at 12:24 am | Permalink

          That’s easily achievable in two generations without killing anybody, if people would just *stop bloody reproducing*.


          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted June 8, 2016 at 11:57 am | Permalink

            Easily achievable. I doubt it will be achieved though.

            • Diane G.
              Posted June 9, 2016 at 1:22 am | Permalink

              Certainly not voluntarily, anyway!

  15. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted June 7, 2016 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    That’s one of the silliest conspiracy theories I’ve read.

    Pinecones taken by visitors aren’t going to end up spreading their DNA ‘in the wild’, they’re going to end up on peoples’ shelves (or maybe in rubbish heaps). I very much doubt if anyone wanting seeds to propagate would find any opposition to their taking a few with official blessing.

    But how many people are going to have the space to want to plant Giant Sequoias? And how long is it going to take for them to grow to a size where they could compete with the Park’s ‘trademark’?

    These aren’t rubber trees, they don’t have some unique commercial value that mustn’t be allowed to ‘escape’.


    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted June 7, 2016 at 9:14 am | Permalink

      That was of course a reply to Gingerbaker’s comment at #14…


      • Posted June 7, 2016 at 9:28 am | Permalink

        so, you give credence to the justification that those pine cones are crucial for the park’s ecosystem?

        I concede to you that my so-called conspiracy theory is pretty cynical – it WAS pre am coffee! – but the explanation makes little sense to me. I have been to Muir Woods. People stay to the paths pretty much as I said.

        And, perhaps I was oblivious, but I don’t remember instructions to leave pine cones undisturbed. This kid has a good heart – but I think that pine cone should have stayed with him for several reasons.

  16. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted June 7, 2016 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    I doubt whether a few pine cones removed would make any difference to the park. I suspect the ban on removing them is just part of a blanket ban on removing *any* plants or material from a park.

    I don’t know visitor numbers, but if sufficient cones were removed I imagine it could have a deleterious effect.


    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted June 7, 2016 at 9:52 am | Permalink

      … and that of course was a reply to Gingerbaker’s reply…

      I *hate* WordPress!


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