A growing industry? Not for the moss, which is increasingly in demand by home decorators. Moss poachers (yes, there is such a thing), eager for a piece of a multi-million dollar sales industry, are causing problems for ecosystems dependant on the stuff.
"…a growing number of researchers and land managers who are worried about the effect of commercial moss gathering."
Another article on the same subject appears in today’s New York Times.
Moss Hunters Roll Away Nature’s Carpet, and Some Ecologists Worry
By JOSHUA TOMPKINS
The New York Times
Published: November 30, 2004
a rolling stone may gather no moss, what Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer wants
to know is how quickly a stationary stone can collect it. Specifically,
how quickly moss, when stripped from boulders or tree trunks or the
forest floor, will grow back.
Dr. Kimmerer, a professor of
environmental and forest biology at the State University of New York
College of Environmental Science and Forestry, is one of a growing
number of researchers and land managers who are worried about the
effect of commercial moss gathering.
She has seen the aftermath
of such gathering firsthand, having once bushwhacked her way up a muddy
hillside in western Oregon, following the trail of harvesters to a
grove of maple trees hiding in the mist.
Winded by the climb
and bloody from thorn scrapes, she took in the scene, described last
year in her book "Gathering Moss." On the far side of a stream, the
trees were swaddled in moss, its lush fabric wrapped around the trunks
in woolly pelts and hanging from the branches like green gossamer
But on her side of the water, the maples were bare.
Their moss had been torn off, stuffed into burlap sacks, and hauled
back down the hill. Frowning at a cigarette package left by one of the
harvesters, Dr. Kimmerer marveled at how they had gotten their heavy
prize through the salmonberry bramble and wondered if they knew what
they had plundered. "What it was, of course, is a living carpet that
might have been a hundred years old," she said recently in a telephone
Her frustration stresses the contradictory
relationship humans have with moss, an ancient, primitive plant whose
role in forest ecology is still just partly understood. Overlooked in
its habitat – or even mistaken for a blight – moss is nevertheless
sought for its aesthetic value at nurseries, craft stores and floral
shops around the country, lining baskets and adorning wreaths.
gatherers roaming public and private property for fresh pickings, the
loosely regulated industry faces scientific scrutiny as biologists and
businesses clash over research findings and land managers struggle to
enforce collection policies across huge tracts with scarce personnel.
year, harvesters in the United States bagged as much as 17 million
pounds of moss, according to an estimate by Dr. Patricia Muir, a
professor of botany and plant pathology at Oregon State University.
Most of the moss is from the Pacific Northwest and Appalachia, where
moderate winters and abundant rain allow moss to thrive.
favor a few popular species, none of them endangered or threatened (no
mosses are), pulling them from rocks and logs in the East and hardwoods
in the West. Harvesters use bare hands and an occasional rake or
ladder, but sometimes they get brazen: Oregon officials once saw
harvesters who had strung a cable down a small valley and strapped a
shopping cart to it to hoist moss up to the road.
is how soon new moss can take its place. A tree shrouded in moss may
have needed decades or longer to get that way, and after harvesting,
regeneration is even slower. Dr. Kimmerer’s study of an experimentally
harvested area found in some cases a recovery rate of only 1 percent
per year. "You’re looking at 100 years to get back to the initial
volume," she said. "Yes, it’s a renewable resource, but not on any
meaningful time scale."
Land managers in the Pacific Northwest
and Appalachia are trying to curtail legal and illicit gathering. The
Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia has ceased issuing
collection permits, and the Siuslaw National Forest in Oregon limits
the amount of moss that can be taken each year -a few thousand pounds
in some districts – but many gatherers flout restrictions.
a continuous problem," said Rich Babcock, the special forest products
coordinator for the Hebo District in Siuslaw, the busiest collection
area. "You see a lot of moss going down the road in the late evening,
and you really don’t know where it’s coming from."