The Mount Douglas Park Society has asked the public to refrain from harvesting fiddleheads, a seasonal delicacy. Not everyone has followed this appeal, citing the absence of an explicit prohibition against harvesting. Mount Douglas Park Society/Twitter

Saanich society and public in food fight over fiddleheads

Not all members of the public agree with appeal against harvesting the fern

The unfurling of a fern in Mount Douglas Park has sparked a food fight on social media between members of the public and a stewardship society.

Friends of Mount Douglas Society Sunday asked members of the public to refrain from picking fiddleheads unfurling in the park.

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“Fiddleheads are unfurling in [the park] in [Saanich],” the society stated in a tweet Sunday. “Unfortunately, some believe they can harvest them. It’s unlawful to pick or take any plants or anything else out of the park. Except for dog poop and human trash. Please take those out of the park all the time.”

Foodies consider the curled, edible shoots of the ostrich fern a seasonal delicacy, which can also cause food poisoning, if harvesters do not prepare or cook them properly. While common, ferns serve as a source of food and habitat for various animals, and serve as a natural scrub by absorbing heavy metals from the soil.

Citing Saanich bylaw, the society said that “[no] person … shall remove any sand, soil, plants, tree, wood, log or other matter from a park or excavate, dig, cut into or open up the natural terrain of any park.”

But at least one member of the public has read this bylaw differently.

Stephen Fish said in a responding tweet that bylaw is up for interpretation. Like mushroom pickers, harvesters are not removing plants, but their edible parts, he said.

This prompted a response from the society. “Parks and their contents don’t exist for you alone,” it said in a tweet. “They exist for all of us. We have agreed, through [council], to protect some places. If you feel this is a bad way to manage these places go to Council and propose an amendment. Meanwhile, don’t harvest material from parks.”

Fish disagreed. “I beg to differ, if the bylaw did not want us to harvest it would state that,” he said. “Many people also harvest [pine-cones], mushrooms and leaves. Maybe you guys should reread the bylaws.”

Fish said he himself only ate fiddleheads once in a restaurant, describing them as “not bad.” He has never picked them himself, and has no plans to do so in the future. But he knows others who do, and does not consider himself a fan of the society. “They seem to speak on Saanich’s behalf and cross a few lines in my opinion,” he said.

Ed Wiebe of the society said he himself has not witnessed any harvesting, but has heard from others that it has happened. “I’m not able really to say much more,” he said. “Mushrooms and berries are also picked. As a society dedicated to the protection of this park and its designation as a natural area we support the bylaws.”

Wiebe also thinks that the fiddleheads and other items taken from the park add much more value to the park than to dinner plates.

“Maybe those doing it justify it to themselves by arguing they’re only taking a bit of the perceived resources,” he said. “Maybe they just don’t care. The reason used is irrelevant as the same result occurs: harm to the park.”

Megan Catalano, a spokesperson for the District of Saanich, said members of the public are not permitted to remove, destroy or damage any plants, or parts of plants, in any Saanich park. “We welcome people to enjoy our parks and take only memories and photos with them,” she said.


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