Gathering Culturally Important Plants and Trees Growing More Difficult

LAPSUH (June 15, 2004) “We were only 4 or 5 years old at the time, but my mother wanted us to learn how to harvest the plants so they would grow back as well as how to preserve them for later use.” That’s what Mary Eastman remembers about going to the woods with her mother and other Quileute tribal women to learn how to gather plants and cedar bark for traditional uses such as weaving baskets and hats.

Eastman is now in her 60s and the places where Indian people can gather culturally significant plants on the Olympic Peninsula are disappearing along with opportunities to pass on centuries-old knowledge.

“When I was young, we would go to different areas depending on the season. For example, we would go south to gather bear grass in the Lake Quinault area in the early spring months. That was also a good time to gather cedar bark because that’s when it separates more easily from the tree.

On Mother’s Day, three generations of Eastmans gathered to strip cedar bark courtesy of private timberland owner Rayonier. Eastman brought her son Ryan, and his daughter, 8-year-old Mariah. For Eastman, it was a wonderful Mother’s Day present – a day spent with two generations of family, teaching them how to pull the cedar and to separate the rough outside bark from the smooth inner bark. The inner bark is used in basket weaving, hats, clothing and crafts.

Bill Peach, Rayonier regional business manager, has been bringing groups to a stand of ancient cedar near Kalaloch for five years. “The passing of knowledge from experts to beginners is one of the best things about it. I’ve learned as much as anyone else,” said Peach. He credits Hoh tribal members Vi and Marie Riebe with teaching him the cultural significance of many forest plants.

“I’m really thankful for the chance to gather cedar,” said Eastman. It’s just gotten harder and harder to get to some of our spots.” “Rayonier and provides a good opportunity for tribal members and we appreciate that relationship and Bill Peach in particular,” said Katie Krueger, environmental policy analyst for the Quileute Tribe’s natural resources department.

Over the years, access to plants and trees for traditional uses has become increasingly difficult for tribal members. In fact, some made arrangements to strip cedar at local timber mills when a load comes in.

Access is not the only problem, however. Competition for forest plants has risen sharply in the past decade. A steady rise in demand by the floral industry for forest products has sent thousands of brush pickers into the woods in search of many of the same plants used by tribal people. Brush pickers, however, are often unfamiliar with traditional methods of sustainable plant harvest. Many use machetes to remove the plants, preventing the plant from re-growing. Additionally, many pick illegally, stripping huge areas of forest that will take decades to heal. The illegal activity has become such a problem on public and private lands that many areas have been closed to everyone, including tribal members.

One bright spot is a pilot program in Mt. Rainier National Park that enables tribal members from the area to gather within the park through a permit system administered by the tribe. Tribal gatherers receive a sticker on their vehicle and a permit describing plants to be gathered and harvest areas. The park monitors those areas for environmental impacts.

“We hope Mt. Rainier can serve as an example as to how other parks can operate,” said Krueger. Quileute tribal members can gather in Olympic National Forest (ONF) and on Washington Department of Natural Resources lands using a tribal permit system administered by tribe’s natural resources department. In ONF, access to commercially valuable trees such as cedar or yew is negotiable.

“It can seem like a lot of paper work to tribal members, but the benefit is that is shows other agencies the tribe can be self-regulatory,” said Krueger.


For more information, contact: Mel Moon, natural resources director, Quileute Tribe, (360) 374-5695; Katie Krueger, environmental policy analyst, Quileute natural resources department; Debbie Preston, coastal information officer, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, (360) 374-5501