Guidelines for the Sustainable Harvest of Forest Moss

Guidelines for the Sustainable Harvest of Forest Moss


I. Justification for Guidelines

The harvest of forest moss for personal and commercial use is important culturally and economically and is likely to continue into the future. Commercial harvest has been reported from the Pacific Northwest of western North America (Peck 2006), the Appalachians of eastern North America (Studlar & Peck 2007), the Sierra Chincua in southern Mexico (Gómez Peralta & Wolf 2001), the Cordillera Cantábrica in northern Spain (Lara et al. 2006), and elsewhere. Although commercial moss harvest is a comparatively minor threat to bryophyte communities in comparison to land development and mining pressures, we are nevertheless concerned that the harvest of large amounts of forest moss has the potential to adversely impact ecosystem functions (notably hydrological and nutrient cycles) and animal habitats (especially invertebrates). This concern is enhanced by the slow documented rates of moss growth and regrowth in many areas. Yet regulations that completely prohibit the harvest of nontimber forest products such as moss often marginalize traditional harvesters, converting previously law-abiding individuals into illegal poachers. This transition is usually accompanied by the abandonment of traditional, sustainable harvest practices.

By providing guidelines for moss harvest, we hope to reduce the threat of poaching in parks and preserves, increase awareness of the ecological roles of mosses, and promote local community-based industries compatible with long-term economic and ecologic stability.

We do not envision certification as a useful technique for regulating moss harvest at present, since entire plants (colonies) are often harvested, regrowth is slow, and the subsequent long rotation periods make it unlikely that sustainable harvest can be certified through multiple rotations. Because inexpensive alternatives are available for most uses and mosses are generally not value-added commodities, prices are also unlikely to become high enough to generate funds for the controlled access (e.g., gated roads) necessary to meet certification standards (c.f. Shanley et al. 2005).


II. Guideline Development

These guidelines have been draw from a variety of sources, including comments from Patricia Muir (muirp@science.oregonstate.edu), Natalie Cleavitt (nlc4@cornell.edu), Alvaro J. Duque M. (ajduque@unalmed.edu.co), Tomas Hallingback, (tomas.hallingback@ArtData.slu.se), Alison Dyke (alison.dyke@blueyonder.co.uk), and the following resources: Muir 2004; Muir et al. 2002; Peck 2006; Peck and McCune 1998; Peck & Moldenke 1999; Studlar & Peck 2007; Ticktin 2004.; Vance et al. 2001. Although we have presented the following guidelines in a numbered format to facilitate discussion, we recommend that the guidelines prepared for distribution instead be listed in a bulleted format to prevent readers from assigning ranked importance to these lists.

The assumptions behind these general guidelines include:
  1. The effective implementation of specific management objectives for moss communities requires active involvement by policy-makers, landowners/managers, harvesters and buyers. Simply posting harvest guidelines is unlikely to achieve these objectives.
  2. Regulation thus requires specific actions by those forming policy, those managing the landbase, those harvesting the moss, and those purchasing moss.
  3. Harvest guidelines relying on self-enforcement are functionally voluntary.
  4. Successful voluntary harvest guidelines are those that are perceived as reasonable and easy to follow.
  5. Guidelines should encourage long-term product availability and minimize the impact of harvest on bryophyte communities and the ecosystem services they provide.
  6. Consideration must be given to the safety of harvesters as well as that of the surrounding habitat.
  7. The best hope for sustainable moss harvest may well be educating harvesters, buyers and the general public so that harvest guidelines are willingly followed.
  8. Guidelines should evolve over time as new information on harvest intensities or impacts becomes available.


III. Policy Guidelines

   1. Establish a uniform set of guidelines applicable across land ownerships within regions.
   2. Authorize local law enforcement to check permits when they are required.
   3. Develop an incentive system to encourage buyers to record permit information when permits are required
   4. Establish standardized reporting formats and record keeping standards on harvested quantities (including moisture contents) and locations .
   5. Assign a unique HTS code to forest moss (separate from clubmosses, lichens, etc.) to facilitate tracking moss sold domestically and internationally.
   6. Sterilize all harvested moss prior to export out of the harvest area to prevent exotic invertebrate introductions.
   7. Include standards and guidelines for moss harvest in forest planning documents.
   8. Explore potential for commercial cultivation and, where feasible, promote cultivation as an alternative to wild harvest


IV. Management Guidelines

   1. Conduct inventories to determine appropriate levels of harvest.
   2. Determine the ecological requirements of the harvested plants to enable development of tailored guidelines.
   3. Determine the ecological impacts of harvest (including the extent to which other organisms, such as invertebrates, are removed from the system through harvest).
   4. Work with local harvesters to develop site-specific guidelines that incorporate traditional harvest methods.
   5. Monitor harvest impacts regularly and reassess guidelines.
   6. Ensure adequate access routes when determining which areas to open for harvest.
   7. Consider maintaining written records and maps indicating areas open for harvest to facilitate rotation from year to year.
   8. Promote only personal use in areas with low inventories.
   9. Promote and coordinate harvest in areas scheduled for road construction, timber harvest, or other disturbance.
  10. Promote harvest in high production timber plantations or otherwise highly artificial systems.
  11. Clearly mark areas open for harvest and list (with photographs) which mosses can be taken.
  12. If issuing permits for harvesting and hauling moss, allow fees to be paid in installments and/or at end of the harvest season and provide incentives for following harvest guidelines (e.g., rebates after spot-checks).
  13. Distribute informational posters and materials to buyers on target species identification, guidelines, and resources.
  14. Promote moss habitat through forest management that retains both host tree or shrub species of suitable size (diameter or basal area) and also stumps, logs and other coarse woody debris.

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