By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians are one step closer to being able to harvest sochan legally in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Park has completed an Environmental Assessment (EA) and is taking public comment on that document now through Thursday, Dec. 13.
“This is an important step in the completion of this multi-year effort to create a permitting process for EBCI members to harvest sochan in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park,” said Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed. “I encourage everyone to demonstrate their interest in the project by participating in this information gathering process. I would like to thank the Agriculture and Natural Resources Division for their work on this project, and I look forward to seeing this project to fruition.”
To comment on the EA, post a comment online at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/grsm or mail your comment to: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Environmental Planning and Compliance, 107 Park Headquarters Road, Gatlinburg, TN 37738.
“Over the last several months, Park and EBCI staff worked hand-in-hand to develop the gathering protocols evaluated in this Environmental Assessment,” Park Superintendent Cassius Cash told the One Feather. “I appreciate the time everyone has invested in the process and I encourage the public to review and comment on the document. This input better enables us to fully consider potential impacts of the proposal.”
The 34-page EA is part of a proposed agreement between the Park and the Tribe which, according to information from the Park, “would establish a management framework for sustainable gathering of sochan (Rudbeckia laciniata) by EBCI members for traditional purposes”. The National Park Service (NPS) approved changes to 36 CFR Part 2 (Gathering of Certain Plants or Parts by Federally Recognized Tribes for Traditional Purposes) in late June 2016. Tribes must enter into agreements with the NPS and must have a “traditional association to lands within the national park and the plants must be gathered only for traditional purposes”.
As part of that process, an EA is required with a FONSI (Finding of No Significant Impact). Park officials noted, “The Park has prepared an EA in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act to analyze potential impacts of the proposed action on the environment. The public is encouraged to participate in the planning process by reviewing and providing comments on the assessment. The National Park Service considered a full range of alternatives based on information obtained through internal and external scoping and identified one reasonable action alternative that is presented in the EA for consideration.”
According to the EA, “This alternative (known in the report as Alternative B) would allow up to 36 EBCI enrolled members to annually participate in sochan gathering. EBCI participants would be selected through their respective ‘community clubs’ on an annual basis. The number of participants is based on an estimate of interested participants and administrative and sustainability considerations.”
Under that proposed alternative, the EBCI Natural Resources Department would maintain the list of approved tribal members and individuals being selected would receive a gathering permit. The EA states that the proposed gathering season would be March 1 through May 31. “Following traditional practices, permittees would be authorized to gather what is referred to by the Cherokee as the ‘turkey foot’ of the perennial sochan plant,” the EA states. “…the turkey foot consists of the upper three leaves of the sochan as the plant begins to grow from the rhizome in the spring. The portions of leaves that would be collected prior to flowering would be no more than 12 inches (30 centimeters) long.”
The EA was prepared by Park staff including Mark Collins, Thomas Remaley, Joshua Albritton, and Jeff Troutman along with Vernadero Group, Inc. employees including Eric Webb, Patrick McConnell, Dan Becker, and Maggie Fulton.
Joey Owle, EBCI Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources, stated, “We are excited to be reaching the final stages of this multi-year effort in reconnecting EBCI community members to traditional gathering grounds. Our team has worked diligently to complete all necessary requirements listed in Title 36 Code of Federal Regulations Part 2.6. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park Staff, and other key partners we have worked with over this time, have been outstanding professionals and assisted us greatly in reaching this point. Now that we are in the final months of this process and in hopes of issuing permits this coming spring, we will be working closely with community clubs to develop and implement our permit issuing, monitoring, and enforcement systems through strategic outreach and education events. I would like to encourage EBCI community members to read the environmental assessment and provide their comment, as it is of tremendous importance now and for our future generations.”
To speed the process, Tribal Council allocated funds during an Annual Council meeting in October 2017, not to exceed $68,100, for the costs association with the Environmental Assessment. The resolution allocating funds was submitted by EBCI Natural Resources who has previously set a goal of starting the permitting process for tribal members in the spring of 2019.
Several months after the NPS changed its rules on gathering, EBCI and NPS officials met in September 2016 to begin the process on developing an agreement on sochan gathering. “Our people have gathered foods and medicines for thousands of years, and we look forward to continue that traditional gathering with the support of the park officials,” then-Principal Chief Patrick Lambert told the One Feather following the initial meeting.
Once the formal agreement is finalized on the gathering of sochan, tribal officials have related they will seek a similar study and agreement on the gathering of ramps.