Foraging is the act of searching and gathering food from wild sources like the forest. On Conservation Authority property it is prohibited and can result in a fine. The Bruce Trail Conservancy also discourages foraging. Our Trail Users’ Code asks you too leave nature as you found it. Leave mushrooms, leeks, fiddleheads, ginger and other plants alone and please stay on the trail to protect sensitive vegetation. Foraging affects forest biodiversity and reduces food available for wildlife and can damage other species. While it is likely impossible to stop foraging completely, we hope to change attitudes and the culture around it, where it is seen by many, as permissible and acceptable. Here are some FAQs, courtesy, Hamilton Conservation Authority for the majority of authorship.
Can I forage on the Bruce Trail or on Conservation area land?
The Bruce Trail Users’ Code specifies that hikers should stay on the trail, leave nature as you found it, and be mindful of private property. Additionally, groups picking for commercial use are not allowed on BTC properties. Section 29 of the Conservation Authorities Act states that no person in a conservation area shall deface, remove or damage any property; cut, remove, injure or destroy a plant, tree, shrub, flower or other growing thing. Failure to follow conservation area rules can result in a monetary fine.
Why can’t I forage?
Although some people may be disappointed to learn that foraging is not permitted, there are many reasons why this regulation is in place:
- Damage to sensitive habitats:Foraging often involves going off trail, which can cause damage to sensitive habitats, plants and animals. Foraging often involves trampling and damaging surrounding plants that are “innocent bystanders” in the same area. Foragers often carry non-native invasive plant seeds in their footwear which root and further degrade the off trail environment. Conservation area rules also require that visitors stay on marked trails at all times, and do not climb or otherwise bypass fencing.
- Deplete abundance and diversity:Foraging can deplete the natural abundance and diversity of species in conservation areas. This decline cannot be easily recorded and tracked making it difficult to manage populations of foraged species. Remember, wildlife forage many of the same plants for survival and don’t have the option of just going to the grocery store.
- Over harvesting:Over harvesting can cause species to become locally rare or extirpated. This means that once a population is removed, it will not reoccur naturally. A good example of this is what has happened with wild leek in the Hamilton watershed. Another example concerns Trilliums which can take up to seven years to germinate. For slow growing understory plants like these, the removal of even a few individuals can have detrimental impacts on the local population.
What can I do instead?
Although you are not permitted to forage and take fungi and plants home from Conservation properties, there are some ecologically conscious activities that will allow you to enjoy and learn about what you find while exploring the trail:
- Be respectful of others who consider foraging a good idea from a cultural or personal past perspective. The goal should be to change the culture around foraging among all of us by discussing the above ideas. Never try to be confrontational in the situation as this is not likely to win over people in the longer term.
- Take photos of mushrooms, plants and animals you find to show friends and family from the trail.
- Upload sightings of plants and animals to sites and mobile apps like inaturalist. This can help with scientific research and tracking species occurrences and is a great way to be part of community science initiatives!
- Bring some field guides and try learning how to identify different plants and animals you might see.
- Sign up for a workshop, guided hikes or go out with a local expert to learn new things about the local environment and ecology.
Staying on the marked trail will ensure that you remain safe, sensitive vegetation is not damaged, and relationships with private landowners along the Trail are not strained.