No one is sure who said, “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.” It may have been the founder of the Scouts, Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Sierra Club, John Muir, or Chief Seattle, a Native American who possibly gave a speech in the 1850s that included the statement, “Take only memories, leave nothing but footprints.” No matter who said it, it’s an important rule to follow when you enter natural spaces.
Public lands, including town and city parks as well as larger state and national parks, are meant to be spaces for everyone to enjoy. They are places for people and nature to get along. Parks are a great place to see animals and plants in the wild and relax. It’s essential to leave the land clean when you go so that it can be enjoyed for generations to come.
They also play a vital role in conservation. Parks act as a habitat for many endangered plants and animals that need a safe place to live. When people start removing things from parks, it can ruin the habitat for flora and fauna.
Two Florida teens have been accused of ignoring the rule and the law. They were caught illegally harvesting dozens of plants in Florida’s Fakahatchee Strand State Park. Their crop included the rare ghost orchid.
Two 19-year-old men were spotted wearing distinct chest waders that matched the description of people who were seen stealing plants. When police officers searched their backpacks and vehicle, no plants were found.
The teens admitted they hadn’t paid park admission. But, they claimed they were just there “to see the wildlife and everything.” They also gave incorrect home addresses.
A K-9 named Susan was on the scene and alerted to the smell of heavy vegetation on the teens. She followed their scent to a machete and a stashed grocery bag with 36 plants inside. One of the teens admitted to harvesting the plants. He was given a court date for harvesting exploited plants without permission. The park employees replanted the pilfered plants in their original spots.
The ghost orchid only exists in South Florida, Cuba, the Bahamas and West Indies. This crime isn’t unheard of. The Orchid Thief is a non-fiction book that is 25 years old about a theft ring that dealt in ghost orchids.
“This mysterious, beautiful plant captivates Floridians, reminding them of our state’s unique, wild heritage,” Melissa Abdo, regional director of the National Parks Conservation Association, said. “While the ghost orchid has always been rare, threats to its existence have become dire in recent years. Poaching, climate change, loss and modification of habitat and direct threats to the ecosystem — even in protected areas like Big Cypress National Preserve — could spell disaster for the species.”
So, when you head into nature, keep your hands to yourself. We all want to bring home a part of the park. Most of us don’t try to take home 36 plants. But many people take small things they find on the path. While it’s great to take any garbage you see left behind by others, leave the things that are meant to be in nature where they are!