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Acadia National Park begins process to allow sweetgrass harvesting

Jennifer Mitchell
Maine Public file
Gabriel and Gal Frey collect sweetgrass in 2018.

The National Park Service is taking steps to allow tribes in Maine to harvest sweetgrass in Acadia National Park.

Sweetgrass grows in salt marshes and is culturally significant to native tribes in ceremonies and basket making.

Suzanne Greenlaw, a citizen of the Houlton Band of Maliseets, studied the impact of sweetgrass harvesting within the park.

She says the research showed that sweetgrass density increased after gathering, a finding that was not surprising to native harvesters.

"So from the after-harvest amounts to the next year, sweetgrass population increased about 140%," she said. "And so I always say, and it's really important to say, this is not new science information. This is what native people have been saying for generations."

The practice of gathering sweetgrass has been banned in Acadia National Park since its inception. In 2016 the park service changed its rules to allow parks to enter agreements with federally recognized tribes for plant gathering. This would be the first such agreement in Maine.

Greenlaw was involved in the discussions to reestablish the practice, and has seen the interest in opening up Acadia.

"Last year I was approached by two people to bring to teach there, they wanted to bring other Wabanaki people to this spot so that they could teach them how to pick sweetgrass," she said. "So I think Acadia offers a space, a safe space, for teaching and sort of our cultural education."

The park service is accepting public comment on the Acadia proposal through Jan.17.

Kaitlyn Budion is Maine Public’s Bangor correspondent, joining the reporting team after several years working in print journalism.