A crew of Prospect Park squirrel and bird poachers was nabbed earlier this summer to much media fanfare about the city’s hunter-gatherer “trend,” pitting conservationists against urban foragers of all stripes. This particular band of hunters stirred a small debate among our commenters: Were the poachers victims of our harsh economic times, homeless and hungry and fending for themselves in this unforgiving city, Survivor-like? Or were they cruel hicks, with raw squirrel meat stuck in their fangs as they littered willy-nilly?
Writ large, to higher questions of the relationship between human and what passes for nature in New York: Why would you do this? As in, eat anything from a New York City pond or field that has been peed on by countless dogs, or hunt adorable animals, or help yourself to or destroy public property? On the other hand, why would you not? What could be more “sustainable” and locavorish than making a salad from young dandelion greens harvested from a nearby park?
Earlier today in Flushing, Assembly members Grace Meng and Rory Lancman, and park advocate Beverly McDermott, said the theft of flora and fauna remains especially egregious in Kissena Park.
McDermott, the president of the Kissena Park Civic Association and unofficial mayor of the park, has witnessed people leaving with coolers full of turtles and fish from the park’s pond, and come upon hidden snares. And, she said, thieves are not just looking for food. It appears some are looking for beauty too, and are “luxury” poaching. Hundreds of daffodil bulbs planted one day have disappeared by the next day. (Note to the thief, before he/she gets any ideas: Daffodils are poisonous to humans.)
Lancman announced that in the next two weeks “Please do not harm or remove wildife” signs in English, Spanish, Chinese, and Korean will be posted around the park. The Parks Department has not wanted to post similar warnings in Central Park in the past, to avoid giving markers of where all the best treats can be scavenged.
Lancman also called for the Parks Department to step up the loosely enforced $250 fines against illegal foraging.
And to perpetrators: “Stop treating the park like their personal salad bar,” Lancman admonished. After detailing the array of adorable — and possibly mouthwatering — bounty that calls Kissena Park home: fish, turtles, rabbit, pheasants, he warned: “That’s not your personal buffet table.”
Janet Kalish, who has taught Spanish at Cardozo High School for 22 years, stood quietly to the side and waited to the end to pose one question: “Do you think picking mulberries which are already on the floor is the same as stealing hundreds of daffodil bulbs?”
The response from the advocates was an unequivocal yes — that’s a mouthful of mulberries that local birds will not get to eat, changing the eco-system of New York’s green spaces. And, they said, it’s a slippery slope. If berry picking gets a pass, what else should be allowed? Where’s the line drawn? Pretty soon we’ll have no squirrels, no pigeons or hawks, no ducks, no trees, no flowers — no natural respite to our unnatural urban lives.
Kalish, who is a freegan and a vegan, disagrees with such blanket vilification of all urban foragers. Not all are disrespectful to park resources, she says. She considers some of the the city’s park policies confused and hypocritical: In her mind, it’s much more cruel and environmentally unethical to catch and release a fish for sport, which is allowed in NYC parks, than to pick up a few berries already on the ground.
“We’re not all the same. Some of us do this in a sustainable manner,” she said, referring to others like herself who have participated in educational park foraging tours like those given by “Wildman” Steve Brill. You make sure not to take the roots out of the ground, she told us, as she chewed on some lemony-tasting heart-shaped clover she’d found, just a few steps away from where the press conference had been held.