While I’m optimistic about many things at the beginning of the new year, I also have concerns.
What I’m about to describe is illustrative of concerns and challenges that I think we will face on the Highlands Plateau.
A recent article in the Carolina Press reported that the US Forest Service is partnering with the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation. The Forest Service is seeking advice from the Cherokee Nation on how to manage and preserve forest species. The Cherokees have thousands of years of traditional knowledge about managing and preserving the forest, especially plant and wildlife species.
What really caught my attention was the US Forest Service concern for managing the ramp population. Ramps are a wild onion that the Cherokee and settlers have eaten in the spring for many generations. There is a growing concern that wild ramps of the forest may become endangered. Trendy restaurants that cater to “hip foodies,” are now serving wild ramps as an exotic, but popular, dish.
Chefs are creating a growing market for this traditional, albeit lowly dish. Entrepreneurs are going into the forest and picking gallons of ramps to meet this demand. A gallon bucket can bring as much as $50.
The article points out the Cherokee had the rule of fours when harvesting wild plants. Out of four plants they would only harvest one, and even that plant was cut to where the root was harvested in order to generate a new plant. The forest service experts want to learn about these practices as a way of sustaining natural plant life in forest lands. Like ginseng and galax, demand and over harvesting of ramps could become a serious problem. Currently, licenses are required to harvest plants on forest service lands, but laws do not deter the unscrupulous.
There is a lot of talk about invasive species on the Plateau, like Japanese Knot Weed and Kudzu. It might just be that we humans are the biggest invasive species to the plateau. Our uncontrolled and thoughtless actions could have detrimental consequences to this unique environment. The growing problem with the wild ramp is a cautionary tale, maybe another canary in the mine situation.
I am grateful in many ways that we have a booming economy on the Plateau, but this robust tourist business may put pressures on the environment and community that could have a lasting impact. How much should we build, develop, and in the lowly ramp situation, harvest?
How many short-term rental units can the community sustain before permanent neighborhoods are eroded? How many more parking spaces can the business district accommodate? And how many tourists do we have the capacity to attract? How many visitors can the town accommodate without becoming overcrowded to a tipping point? These are all questions we need to address because we all want to preserve what it is that brings people here: the lowly ramp, the beautiful landscape, and the simple mountain life.
Hope you have a happy and prosperous new year.
- Town of Highlands Mayor Pat Taylor