OTTAWA -- It’s the story of a pre-Christmas crime, worthy of the Grinch.  Someone is stealing trees cut from the forest on NCC land.  A witness to the theft took pictures and even contacted police.

In a conservation area off Whyte Side Road in Ottawa’s south end, there is a well-travelled path by the look of the boot marks along the way, leading to a crop of Christmas trees that are no longer there. It’s a pipeline corridor off Hawthorne Road in a very isolated spot in the forest.  Walk a little ways down and you come across multiple stumps with very recent cuts.

The land belongs to the National Capital Commission.  The signs warn folks that the trees here are no to be cut but Kyle, a local resident who didn't want us to use his last name, says clearly, people aren't listening.

“I don’t know how many people are cutting trees,” Kyle said in a phone interview, “but if I’m seeing vehicles every couple days, I can’t imagine how many people are doing it.”

Over the last few weeks, he's caught several people cutting trees and hauling them away, including two women that he photographed on Thursday.

“They had two-foot machetes on them,” says Kyle, “They went there prepared yesterday to cut down trees; it wasn't a family experience  These were two ladies going to cut trees, probably for resale.”

Kyle called them out on it then reported the theft to both the NCC and the Ottawa Police who have now started an investigation. 

In a statement, the NCC said conservation officers have been alerted; they too are investigating and gathering information.

At Mageau’s Tree Farm a few kilometres away, Jean Mageau relies on the honesty of people to actually pay for the Christmas trees they cut.  It's his livelihood.

“I figure that's not right to go on NCC property,” he says, “especially when some go and try to sell them back, eh? Honest people, they come here.”

That’s exactly what customer Mark Van Dusen did.  He says paying to cut a tree is part of the experience; stealing a tree off NCC property is just plain wrong.

“Some people may say it's not that big a deal,” says Van Dusen, “that there are lots of trees in the Greenbelt but if everyone started doing it, then where would we be?  And besides, it's not their tree.  I hope they get caught.”

Mageau says this has been going on since he started his business some 30 years ago.  He figures the chances of catching these tree thieves is pretty thin.