A proposal to forge an agreement that would allow members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to gather sochan — also known as green-headed coneflower — from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is open for public comment through Aug. 17. Before drafting an agreement, the park must complete an environmental assessment examining alternative actions and potential environmental impacts associated with plant gathering.
A preliminary list of alternatives to be examined would be not entering into an agreement at all, allowing sochan gathering throughout the park or allowing sochan gathering in specific locations inside the park. The agreement would describe the system used to administer traditional gathering, specify the size and quantity of plant parts that could be gathered, identify the times and locations at which plant parts could be gathered, identify allowable gathering methods, state that commercial use of gathered plants is prohibited, establish a schedule for periodic review of the agreement, and establish protocols to monitor gathering.
Sochan has historically been an important food source for the Cherokee people, but gathering wild plants is prohibited on National Park Service land. The inability to legally gather sochan and other culturally important plants there has long been a sticking point for many tribal members. In 2016, the federal government made a change to these rules, allowing members of federally recognized tribes to request to enter into agreements with the National Park Service that would allow them to gather and remove culturally important plants and plant parts.
Public input on matters related to the proposed action — including environmental issues, potential alternatives and sources of data to be considered — is desired. Comment by following the link “Sochan Gathering for Traditional Purposes” at www.parkplanning.nps.gov/grsm, which also houses documents related to the decision. Comments are also accepted by mail to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, ATTN: Environmental Planning and Compliance, 107 Park Headquarters Rd., Gatlinburg, TN, 37738.