The National Park Service has modified the regulation governing the gathering of plants in national parks to allow members of federally recognized Native American tribes to gather and remove plants or plant parts for traditional purposes. Such gathering previously was granted only to tribes or tribal members with rights reserved through treaties or individual statutes and agreements.

Though certainly a loosening of a pretty absolute prohibition, the changes doubtless will not satisfy some critics who generally have questioned the agency’s and federal government’s authority over lands and activities traditional to Native Americans, the designations of “federally recognized tribes” and “traditional association to lands within the park system,” and the time frames and bureaucratic requirements for gaining approval for gathering activities.

The rule change was announced by Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell on June 29 at the National Congress of American Indians Mid-Year Conference in Spokane, Washington.

The changes to the regulation take effect 30 days after the rule is published in the Federal Register in the coming days. After that time, tribes will be able to request to enter into agreements to conduct gathering activities. The pre-published final rule can be read here.

To be eligible under the rule, a tribe must have a traditional association to lands within the national park system and the plants must be gathered only for traditional purposes. The agreements between tribes and the National Park Service will identify what plants may be gathered and in what quantities, and be subject to permits that identify the tribal members who may conduct these activities. The rule retains the existing regulation that prohibits commercial uses of gathered materials.

The National Park Service said its staff met with or contacted more than 120 Native American tribes during drafting of the modifications.

The final rule will require an Environmental Assessment (EA) and a finding of no significant impact (FONSI) for any agreement between a park and a traditionally associated tribe. The EA is a means to ensure that a targeted plant community can support traditional gathering.

Additionally, the rule will not abrogate, nullify, or diminish any rights to gather plants by any tribes that have gathering rights under treaty provisions, or through federal statute, or have a separate gathering agreement created under this rule, the park service said in a release.