Thu. Dec 7th, 2023
The effects of foraging in Ontario parks

We know that many of our visitors are interested in exploring our parks and perhaps taking a piece home.

We’ve noticed an increase in the popularity of foraging, but remember: Searching for any species of plant or mushroom is prohibited in provincial parks.

Edible species in parks.

Parks are home to many plants and fungi that can be safely consumed by humans. These include fiddleheads, wild leeks, wild grapes, morels, chicken of the woods, and more.

Chicken of the Woods Mushroom on a log.chicken of the woods

Although they may be tasty, each of these species is an important part of the park’s ecosystems. Unsustainable foraging is detrimental to the species that inhabit our parks.

What happens when you forage for food in an unsustainable way?

Foraging, when not done responsibly, can have a detrimental impact on plant species.

Green wooded view of a trail in spring.

Plants need a lot of time and energy to grow. Understory plants have a small annual window of full sun before understory trees wash their leaves. Small white leeks (also known as wild leeks) can take 10 to 15 years to reach maturity.

If a population is not given the time it needs to recover from the harvest, it will eventually disappear in that area. As this happens over and over again across the province, a species can become threatened, endangered, extirpated or even extinct.

That’s what happened with American ginseng. As much of their habitat was lost to farmland, logging and development, the few remaining populations were also targeted by illegal logging. American ginseng is considered to be at imminent risk of extinction in Ontario and is now classified as an endangered species.

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Closeup of a mushroom.

Mushroom foraging has a different kind of impact. The fungi we know are only a small part of the “body” of a fungus. For most species, much of the fungus is tiny threads that weave through the soil, connecting one plant to another and transporting nutrients and sugars through the ecosystem.

The mushroom is simply the fruiting body of the fungus, and while collecting it does not seriously harm the organism itself, it deprives other visitors of the wonder of discovering these incredible organisms.

Similarly, ecosystems are interconnected spaces. If you choose a fiddlehead, a fern frond will not grow there this year. Fewer sugars will be collected to flow into the fungal network, and the moth that specializes on that particular fern species will have fewer places to eat and live.

Closeup of a fern and moss.

And don’t forget: removing any natural object from a provincial park is prohibited and you could face a fine.

Protect ecological integrity

Foraging can be a wonderful thing if done responsibly and legally. The priority for Ontario parks is to ensure that the species and ecosystems native to our parks are protected, which is why foraging is not permitted.

A moose in a swamp.

Healthy ecosystems support healthy people and a healthy economy. Our work to maintain and improve the ecological integrity of our parks supports Ontario’s biodiversity, clean air, productive soils, nutritious foods and fresh water.

Respect Aboriginal and Treaty Rights

Ontario Parks is committed to respecting access for the exercise of Aboriginal and treaty rights as recognized and affirmed in the Constitution Act 1982. Constitutional rights to harvest for food, ceremonial or social purposes may be exercised within a provincial park or conservation reserve at any time, provided safety and conservation considerations are met.

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