Staff at University of Guelph's arboretum are asking for the public to turn in whoever "brutally hacked up" a Balsam fir over the weekend.
The tree was planted in 1995 and was nearly 20 feet tall when someone chopped it down on the weekend.
It appears the tree was cut down, leaving about three feet of the trunk in the ground, then cut again to just remove the top part of the tree. The middle section was then discarded in the English Garden section of the arboretum. The top section was stolen.
"While this is the time of year when many bring greens and Christmas trees into their homes, the Arboretum's trees are meant to remain here for generations to enjoy," arboretum staff said in a Facebook post, which also asked anyone with information to come forward.
Sean Fox is the manager of horticulture at the arboretum and discovered the tree had been cut down Monday morning as he and a colleague arrived at work.
He said the tree had been growing near the arboretum's main building, and Fox noticed as he walked by it that it had "been brutally hacked up."
'Harvest a Christmas tree'
"We assumed maybe someone had decided to harvest a Christmas tree," Fox said.
Fox called the theft brazen.
"These instances are fairly rare where we see vandalism like this, but I think the shock of it was just that not only did they take the tree, but they really beat it up and threw it all over the place," he said. "It was a very unfortunate incident to come across on a Monday morning."
Some people who have commented on the arboretum's Facebook post have pointed the finger at students at the university, but Fox says he's not sure it was students. Campus police are investigating.
Trees 'planted for a purpose'
Grand River Conservation Authority says tree heists are rarely a problem in their parks.
GRCA spokesperson Cam Linwood said staff do sometimes find people gathering branches or cedar boughs for Christmas greenery.
"While infrequent, when staff witness the activity, they will use it as an opportunity to educate people on why the areas exist, why trees and natural features in those areas are protected and make them aware of the damage they may be causing," Linwood said.
Fox says he hopes people read about this case and remember that spaces like the arboretum are meant to be enjoyed, not seen as a potential source for decorations.
The trees are "meant to be there for many generations to enjoy," he said.
"All the trees that we plant have value in one way or the other, and they're planted for a purpose. So they're meant to be there and certainly not … for someone to take just because they want to maybe bring it indoors or even just to cause mischief in general."