Plant Gathering for Traditional Purposes EA

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The National Park Service (NPS) is proposing to enter into an agreement with the Tohono O'odham Nation (TON) to approve the gathering of plant parts, to include saguaro cactus fruit, saguaro ribs, and cholla buds per 36 CFR 2.6, Gathering of Certain Plants or Plant Parts by Federally Recognized Indian Tribes for Traditional Purposes. The National Park Service (NPS) has a long-standing and unique relationship with the TON and other affiliated federally recognized Indian tribes through a shared commitment to stewardship of the land and resources. Many Indian tribes have traditional associations with lands that predate the establishment of NPS units. These associations are through customary activities rooted in the traditions and history of the tribe and important to tribes' distinct culture. Some traditional associations include gathering or harvesting plants or plant parts for traditional purposes.

Following the establishment of the Tucson Mountain District (TMD) of Saguaro National Monument in 1961 (later designated as a national park in 1994), the TON's desire to continue harvesting plant parts on these lands gained the attention of Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall. Udall supported traditional plant harvesting on these lands by the TON, then known as the Papago Tribe, by amending the Code of Federal Regulations to explicitly allow for the tribe to continue this activity (Appendix A). By the following harvest season, the TON and SNP entered a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to formalize the terms of plant harvesting activities. This MOU remained in place into the 1970s until the text authorizing these activities was inadvertently dropped during a revision of Title 36 of the CFR (Toupal et al., 2006).

The August 2016 NPS rule, Gathering of Certain Plants or Plant Parts by Federally Recognized Indian Tribes for Traditional Purposes (36 CFR 2.6) has provided additional clarification on this issue. This rule indicates that removing or disturbing plants or plant parts is prohibited, except when an established management framework for gathering certain plants or plant parts by federally recognized tribes for traditional purposes has been fully analyzed. The rule explicitly prohibits all plant gathering unless specifically authorized by federal statute, treaty rights, existing CFR, or the terms and conditions of an agreement and permit issued under this rule.

To align with the rule, the TON has requested to enter into an agreement with SNP to continue traditional harvesting of plant materials. The rule requires the activities to be outlined in an agreement and to be analyzed in an Environmental Assessment (EA). This environmental review details the anticipated impacts of traditional gathering activities on park resources.

The rule stipulates that tribes must formally request access for gathering plant materials. The request must contain three elements:

1) An explanation of the traditional association and how it predates the park;
2) An explanation of the traditional purposes to which the gathering activity will relate;
3) A description of the gathering activity the tribe wants to conduct.

The TON's formal request to continue the traditional harvest of saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea) fruits and cholla (Cylindropuntia species) buds includes sufficient information to meet the requirements of the NPS rule. The impacts of these proposed activities are analyzed within this EA.

Contact Information

Adam Springer