Skip to main content

U.S. Forest Service attempting to regulate gathering of plant materials

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – On Dec. 29, 2008 the U.S. Forest Service issued a measure attempting to regulate the gathering of native plant materials on Forest Service lands. The ruling would regulate tribal members that gather any plant materials used for basket making, traditional medicines, ceremonies and food.

The Sale and Disposal of National Forest System Timber; Special Forest Products and Forest Botanical Products rule would specifically establish regulations for “the sustainable free use, commercial harvest and sale of special forest products and forest botanical products from National Forest Service lands.”

In short, any tribal members wanting to collect materials to make a basket or pick any berries on National Forest lands would have to buy a permit.

The California Indian Basket Weavers Association is outwardly opposed to the measure. According to a release, “It is our position that this rule exceeds the Forest Service’s authority regarding matters of tribal trust, treaty rights and other issues pertaining to tribal/government relations. Under current policy, such use does not require fees or permits.”

CIBA also feels concern that the Forest Service “would set a damaging precedent in separating treaty tribes from other federally recognized tribes” because non-recognized tribes would not be exempt from having to secure permits while other tribes may be covered by treaty agreements.

Jennifer Kalt, resource protection associate at CIBA has been working to inform tribal people about the measure since its introduction during the Bush administration.

“This has been a major part of my job here for the last couple of years. The Bush administration put this out as a draft proposal in 2005 and 2008. I have been working on it this whole time trying to get people informed about it and alerting tribes about the opportunity for comment.”

Scroll to Continue

Read More

The rule, officially proposed in October 2007 and published to the Federal Register on Dec. 29, 2008, was scheduled to take effect Jan. 28, 2009. Due to its proposed passing so soon after the Obama administration taking office, the measure was called a “midnight regulation” because it was a last minute measure proposed by the Bush administration.

Considerable opposition to the ruling and a letter from Chairman Nick J. Rahall of the Committee on Natural Resources has prompted Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to extend the deadline to allow for public comment.

“I am concerned that the Final Rule, 73 Fed. Reg. 79367 raises serious questions of law and Indian policy. Therefore, I urge you to extend the effective date in order to ensure that treaty and other reserved rights will not be infringed upon by the Final Rule and that the United States honors its trust responsibility to Native Americans.”

The public comment period has been extended to March 30.

“In keeping with President Obama’s recent pledge for a more transparent and inclusive government that works for the people, this extension will afford the public an opportunity to participate in the rulemaking process,” Vilsack said. “This rule is especially important to American Indians and Alaska Natives and we want to make sure that they, and other stakeholders, have an opportunity to have their voices heard.”

Kalt feels the extension is helpful, but cites problems with the measure.

“What I’m told is that the Timber Division in the Washington office of the Forest Service is the one who wrote this policy. They just have no understanding of tribal law, tribal relations or the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. This rule would be in conflict with a lot of long established laws and regulations.”