With the passage of Resolution 6 (2017) (https://www.theonefeather.com/2017/10/tribe-to-fund-ea-for-sochan-gathering-in-park/) ,the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians tribal leadership committed funding to complete the required actions as outlined in 36 CRF 2.6 – ‘Gathering of plants or plant parts by federally recognized Indian tribes.’ The regulation authorizes the gathering of plants or plant parts by enrolled tribal members in accordance with a plant gathering agreement and permit or where specifically authorized by federal statute or treaty.
Step 1, Initiating a Plant Gathering Agreement, was completed in September 2016 with a letter to Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) Superintendent Cassius Cash that detailed: 1) how the EBCI is traditionally associated with the GSMNP; 2) an explanation of the traditional purposes of which the gathering activity will relate; and 3) a description of the gathering and removal activity that the Tribe wants to conduct, including a list of plants or plant parts that tribal members wish to gather and method of removal.
Step 2, ‘Establishing a Plant Gathering Agreement’ and Step 3, ‘Environmental Assessment’ are going to completed in unison over the next 10 months. The Environmental Assessment (EA) is a requirement under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that is initiated when a federal agency develops a proposal to take a major federal action on federal lands or lands in trust (https://www.epa.gov/nepa/national-environmental-policy-act-review-process). The EA determines whether or not a federal action has the potential to cause significant environmental effects. If the agency determines that the action will not have significant environmental impacts, the agency will issue a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI). This FONSI is an absolute requirement that demonstrates that permitted enrolled EBCI member harvesting of sochan will not have an adverse impact on the areas of harvest as determined by the EA in the GSMNP. Tribal officials will then use information generated from the EA to formulate an agreement with the GSMNP.
To be clear for the public, it is still illegal for EBCI tribal members to enter the GSMNP to gather plants or plant parts at this time. The EA to execute the plant gathering regulation will be conducted over the next year. During that time, the EBCI Natural Resources Department will also be working on developing the permitting system, monitoring protocols, remedies for noncompliance of a permit, and other key components. The goal is to begin permitting a set number of EBCI tribal members for sochan gathering in the GSMNP by next spring.
Laws and policies of the GSMNP can be found at this website: https://www.nps.gov/grsm/learn/management/lawsandpolicies.htm and are listed in CFP 36 Chapter 1.
Info: EBCI Natural Resources Department 359-6110
– EBCI Natural Resources Dept.