Plant theft disturbs Rouge Valley

There is a plant thief on the loose in Rouge Hill. Or, perhaps more accurately, plant thieves.

Plants have been disappearing from the valley for the last couple of years, said David Lawrie, board member and hike leader at the Rouge Valley Conservation Centre (RVCC).

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This theft puts pressure on the ecosystem, whether plants are taken in a large amout or not, he said.

“You’re kind of removing that whole forest floor ecosystem,” Lawrie said. “Also, people walk through the park and pick plants randomly, so that’s a constant pressure on the natural systems that are there.”

Ferns are largely targeted, but trilliums, goldenrods, and pussy willow branches are also being taken, Lawrie said. While many plants taken are for personal use or decoration, ferns are often taken in large quantities for commercial use, he said.

Lawrie’s wife Serena Lawrie, also a member of the RVCC, said she finds it hard to understand why people feel they can take whatever they want from the park.

“The park is not a garden store… you’re here to enjoy the park,” Serena said. “If you take things from the park, then you lose the diversity, you lose species, and it’s just not a good thing to do.”

Though Lawrie hasn’t personally witnessed the thefts, several people have told him they have seen plants being taken and loaded into trucks. The thieving, especially in the case of ferns, often takes place at night and from the area of woods bordering the road for secrecy.

The situation has been reported to the park, but because RVCC workers have not seen the plant thieves in action, there is not a lot that can be done.

Lawrie described the problem within the park as an issue with group mentality, and people not considering how their action of taking one plant will affect the rest of the forest.

“If one person takes a plant, it’s not a big deal, but if 100 people take them, that’s where you start to have problems,” said Lawrie.