Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indian (EBCI) leadership met to discuss the recently modified regulation governing the gathering of plants in national parks. The rule, which went into effect on August 11, 2016, now allows members of federally recognized Indian tribes to request to enter into agreement with the National Park Service to gather and remove plants or plant parts for traditional purposes.
“We look forward to working with the tribe to both honor Cherokee Indian traditions and also carry out our agency’s mission to protect these very special resources for future generations. I truly believe that we can achieve both of these goals by working together,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash.
The Park and EBCI leadership established a framework outlining next steps in developing an agreement to allow traditional gathering of plants, particularly sochan (also known as green-headed coneflower) and ramps which is a species of wild onion. The first step in developing the agreement requires the completion of an Environmental Assessment (EA) and a finding of no significant impact (FONSI). The EA is a means to ensure that a targeted plant community can support traditional gathering. Officials hope to complete the EA for sochan over the next 12 – 18 months.
“The relationship we have with the park has strengthened and we are excited to share our traditional ecological knowledge on how we have harvested these plants for thousands of years in this landscape,” said Principal Chief Patrick Lambert. “We truly appreciate the partnership and understandings of everyone involved, and look forward to our continued support of each other down the road.”
As part of the process, park managers and EBCI managers will work hand in hand to develop an agreement in alignment with the environmental assessment. Through the environmental assessment, managers can determine appropriate quantities and locations for traditional gathering that will ensure sustainability and protection of the selected species. The rule retains the existing regulation that prohibits commercial uses of gathered materials and also requires the identification of all tribal members who may conduct traditional gathering activities.
For more information about the final ruling, please visit federal register at https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2016/07/12/2016-16434/gathering-of-certain-plants-or-plant-parts-by-federally-recognized-indian-tribes-for-traditional