Daniel B. Wheeler
dwheeler at ipns.com
Sat Apr 12 10:54:56 EST 2003
By Diana K. Colvin, in Homes and Gardens of the Northwest, in The
Oregonian, April 10, 2003
Some people see more than shades of green when they look at moss.
They see money.
In Northwest forests, moss harvesting has grown into a
multi-millioon-dollar annual business. The gatherer usually doesn't
reap the riches; that's the reward of themiddleman who sells the
harvested moss ot the floral trade. Tons of moss are removed from
public lands every year with little or no regulation.
In the past decade or two, public land managers have begun to examine
harvesting. They have the authority to write permits for it but find
they lack basic information, such as how much moss there is, how fast
it regrows and how fast it's being removed, says Patricia Muir, a
professor of botany and plant pathology at Oregon State University,
who's helping to fill the information gap. Managers have no
enforcement capability and know that a significant amount of moss is
harvested without permits. She says one Oregon district's permitted
harvest of fresh moss was 85,000 pounds in a year.
"It almost doesn't matter if anybody allows it, because it goes on,"
Muir says. The dried moss is used as mulch around potted plants.
Muir and ecologist Jeri Peck began looking at the situation in 1997
with funding from the Bureau of Land Management. Their research is
focused on Oregon forests.
They found varied moss "inventories," with the regrowth rates
remarkably slow, Muir says. They felt they started looking decades too
late, because so many areas already had been denuded.
"You can see it in forest areas near roads and along streamsides. If
you stop your car, you'll see the areas have been stripped," Muir
Knowing that moss regrows so slowly, a number of federal agencies and
timber companies refuse to issue harvest permits, Muir says.
Enforcement issues also arise: as with wild-mushroom hunters, there
have been turf wars over territory, she says.
"There is this whole culture of harvesters," she says, ranging from
minimally paid illegal immigrants who work for a boss to independent
operators to mom-and-pop outfits.
Some obtain permits; many don't.
Some harvesters leave bits for regrowth, while others take it all,
stripping moss from trees, shrubs, rotting logs and even the forest
Muir is gathering information on international moss trading with a
grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Servie. The service is
considering whether any mosses should be monitored by CITES, the
Convention on International Trade in Endangerd Species, known for
drawing attention to Ivory harvests.
Other Northwest forest products harvested as cash crops include
salal, sword fern and cascara.
"Our objective is not to shut down moss harvest but to make it
sustainable," Muir says.
Posted as a courtesy by
Daniel B. Wheeler
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