Illegal foraging of greens in Toronto parks is sparking outrage

While the practice of foraging for edible plants has been around for centuries, over the last few years there’s been an uptick in city dwellers who seem to view Toronto green spaces as open-air supermarkets, which along with being illegal and harmful to the environment, has some local residents very upset.

Kassondra Comelli, a Scarborough dog walker told CTV News Toronto that over the last three during her daily walks in Janellan Ravine Park and other parks in the Rouge Valley, she often sees people illegally harvesting plants especially in the last two weeks. She has recorded videos that show people picking plants including fiddleheads and other greens and putting them in plastic bags.

“It makes me really emotional, I get really upset,” Comelli told CTV News. ‘We already take so much from the land, and we don’t give enough back in the first place.”

In a statement to CTV News, Parks Canada said that they are aware of illegal harvesting in Rouge National Urban park which damages the eco-system of protected areas.

‘With respect to fiddleheads — if they are harvested, it means that a fern frond (leaves of a fern) will not grow in that spot this year. This can adversely affect insect and animals species that rely on ferns for habitat or food,” said the spokesperson who went on to say that “the collection of natural objects from the park is prohibited under the Rouge National Urban Park Act. This includes plants, mushrooms, berries, animals, antlers, fossils, driftwood and rocks.”

While Parks Canada said that popular harvesting areas within the park are monitored regularly, signs can also be found at the beginning of each trail which show that fines can range up to $25,000.

Toronto, too, has a parks bylaw which prohibits the removal of flowers, plant material, fungus, trees or other vegetation from city parks.

“Foraging in Toronto’s parks and ravines causes damage to sensitive habitats and slopes, reduces food for wildlife, and can be dangerous,” said a tweet from the City of Toronto account for Urban Forestry.  “Please respect these spaces by staying on trail and not removing vegetation.”

Mark Sherman, a City of Toronto Natural Environment Specialist told CTV News that last year, they had received 11 complaints with regards to plants being removed from parks.

“Disturbing plants and soils can also introduce or disperse invasive species into new areas,” he said. ” These invasive plants can quickly out-compete native species, reducing biodiversity and the quality of habitat for insects and wildlife.”

Contact the City of Toronto at 311 or Parks Canada at 1-877-852-3100 to report any incidents of illegal harvesting.