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Park, tribe sign gathering agreement

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Cassius Cash stands with members of tribal government. Pictured are (from left) Councilmember Lisa Taylor, Councilmember Bucky Brown, Councilmember Richard French, Principal Chief Richard Sneed, Councilmember Tom Wahnetah, Cash and Councilmember Perry Shell. NPS photo Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Cassius Cash stands with members of tribal government. Pictured are (from left) Councilmember Lisa Taylor, Councilmember Bucky Brown, Councilmember Richard French, Principal Chief Richard Sneed, Councilmember Tom Wahnetah, Cash and Councilmember Perry Shell. NPS photo

An agreement allowing members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to gather sochan in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is now official following an event Monday, March 25, in which Smokies Superintendent Cassius Cash and Principal Chief Richard Sneed signed the historic agreement. 

“The signing of this agreement allows both governments to strike a better balance in honoring the rich Cherokee Indian traditions and also continuing to protect these very special resources for future generations,” Cash said. 

The agreement allows the EBCI to select up to 36 enrolled members each year to gather sochan, also known as green-headed coneflower. These permittees must complete an annual training and can gather up to 1 bushel of sochan leaves each week using traditional gathering techniques, with the season extending March 29 through May 31. 

The park will monitor populations in harvest zones and non-harvest zones to assess sochan abundance, population health and incidental impacts such as trampling. Park and tribal staff will meet frequently throughout the gathering period to discuss monitoring results and adjust the terms of the agreement if necessary to limit any unforeseen impacts. 

Sochan, Rudbeckia laciniata, is an herbaceous perennial plant that grows and spreads from its roots. Its early spring leaves were traditionally gathered by the Cherokee, and mature plants reach 3 to 10 feet, producing yellow flowers from July through October. 

The road to an agreement has been a long one, beginning in 2016 when a federal government rule change allowed members of federally recognized tribes to request to enter into agreements with the Park Service to gather and remove culturally important plants and plant parts. The EBCI made such a request but then had to spend $68,000 to fund the regulatory process necessary to turn that request into an agreement. The money supported staffing, operational and contractual costs for an environmental assessment. 

The draft assessment was released last year and then went out for public comment, with the comment period wrapping up Dec. 13. The final document is available at parkplanning.nps.gov/grsm by following the link titled “Sochan Gathering for Traditional Purposes.”

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