Rural System's

The Moss Group

Moss is a popular item to harvest from the forests and then to sell to brokers who sell it worldwide to florists. The forest growth is limited and harvesting is difficult, probably impossible to control. Harvesters (2005) can generally get between 75 cents and $1 per pound of moss in the western USA. While moss harvesting can be done legally, but often isn't. The U.S. Forest Service issues permits for moss harvesting. Permits have conditions and regulations. Permits cost $25 for 500 pounds or $50 for 1,000 pounds ( Siuslaw National Forest). A map defines the area in which moss can be harvested; they can't take moss from within 200 feet of a stream or a developed recreation site. Harvesters are supposted to take only every-other plant but this cannot be enforced. They agree to must pick it in a way that doesn't harm the plant. It's prohibited to take moss from higher than 20 feet above ground.The maximum amount one family can harvest is 1,000 pounds per year, and everyone who is harvesting must have a permit.

The growth rates are unknown and season specific. Regulating harvest is difficult (even if exact plant community needs were known). The potential for ecosytem disruption are great. Current self-reporting conditions are said to be like going hunting, getting a deer and taking it home without getting the deer tag punched and then using the same tag to get a second deer. Harvesters are supposed to write on the permits how much moss they have harvested but the truthfulness of this has not been studied.

The mosses are interesting plants and very attractive. They will probably yield readily to GIS-related study. There seems to be a potential, small-scale busines to be created in plastic greenhouses with equipment designed to produce mosses hydroponically in moist, low light conditions. Where there is a market, it can be developed legally and abuses to forests and other communities (e.g., lichen) reduced. In the West, mosses are picked from trees. In the East they occur on trees and the ground. It seems likely that organic medium strips or "felts" can be developed with moss growing on them. They can be packaged and sent in cool packaging for direct sale and easy use by florists. One National Forest (Siuslaw) sells 125,000 pounds a year.

The Moss Group potentials seem to be (2005):


Newspaper article to be abstracted

Moss has become cash crop in Appalachia, Pacific Northwest But effects are depletion on forest ecology are unknown

Monday, October 17, 2005 By Vicki Smith, The Associated Press

LOOKOUT, W.Va. -- Amy Sancetta, Associated Press J.P. Anderson collects sheets of moss from a fallen tree deep in the forest near Lookout, W.Va. Click photo for larger image.

"Hang on," he says, scanning the trees for gaps and snapping the smaller ones in his way. Eventually, the engine goes silent and the vehicle comes to rest against a trunk 6 inches thick. Then he spots it: a long-fallen, rotting tree covered in a blanket of brilliant green moss some 2 inches thick and several feet long. Quickly and gently, he rips up a long section of the living carpet and stuffs it into one of eight woven-plastic sacks he'll fill in an hour.

"They told me money don't grow on trees. They was lying to me," he says, grinning through his black beard. "I know better now. It grows on rocks, too."

Moss is the all-purpose sponge of the forest, storing water, releasing nutrients and housing tiny critters. But across Appalachia and in the Pacific Northwest, it's more than that. It's a way to make ends meet when jobs are few.

Picking is hard work on a hot day. Sweaty. Dirty. And it pays only about $5 a sack. But for Mr. Anderson, 33, who lives simply as a single father to twin boys, the solitude and independence beat the construction jobs that often pay the bills.

"I don't like dealing with people, actually. I don't deal well with being told what to do," he says, hefting another 20- to 30-pound sack over his shoulder.

What Mr. Anderson picks could end up in a floral arrangement or a craft project, maybe even on a movie set. Along the way, it will support more than a dozen jobs, from people who sort it, dry it and package it to those who ship and sell it. A package of moss, gathered and processed in West Virginia, hangs on a rack at the Jo-Ann Fabric and Crafts store in Solon, Ohio. But biologists, businessmen and pickers say the good stuff is getting harder to find -- and the money harder to make. Moss is not commercially grown, so buyers depend on the wilderness. Some state and national forests, though, have banned harvesting, worried about what they are losing when moss leaves the ecosystem.

A less ethical picker will strip the logs bare, but Mr. Anderson and father James, who have witnessed the devastation of strip mining and clear-cut logging, always leave clumps behind to help the spore-driven plant regenerate. To thrive, it needs moisture, cool temperatures and shade. "You never pick it all," the elder Mr. Anderson says. "Not if you want it to grow back again."

How long that takes is a question that has some scientists and U.S. Forest Service officials wrestling with the regulation of this secretive industry, where there are plenty of opinions but few facts.

North Carolina's Pisgah and Nantahala national forests expect to ban moss collection Jan. 1 after studies there indicated a growback cycle "on the order of 15 to 20 years," says botanical specialist Gary Kauffman of the Forest Service.

conventional forest rotation / on scale with energy forest rotation

That's twice as long as some veteran pickers and moss buyers think it takes.

Though Mr. Kauffman agrees the science is still lacking, Pisgah and Nantahala will likely err on the side of caution. That means the forests will be off-limits to the 100 to 200 pickers a year who typically get permits.

Nationwide, it's hard to tell how many people make a living from moss. Most search out private land, where they go unnoticed by hunt clubs and logging companies.

Nor are all pickers alike. Some are chronically unemployed, living on society's fringe. Some are recreational, filling sacks while hunting or hiking. Some teenagers do it at county fair time, for pocket money.

Few pickers are eager to talk about their work. Sometimes that's because it involves trespassing and illegal picking, but mainly it's to protect their sites from competitors.

Sue Studlar, a West Virginia University biologist who has studied the business, argues that overall, moss is "mined, rather than sustainably harvested." Large-scale removal can inadvertently damage other species, from ferns to salamanders.

The Monongahela National Forest banned mossing in 2001 until it could study the impact. Two years later, she concluded that picking should be discouraged near limestone cliffs and wet areas, that no log or rock should be stripped bare, and that known biodiversity hot spots should be off-limits.

But "potentially, if you did it right," moss could be harvested without harming the ecosystem, Ms. Studlar says. It falls off in clumps naturally as it regenerates, and pickers could harvest that.

The Monongahela, which covers nearly 1 million acres in West Virginia, may someday restore moss-picking permits. Ecologist Melissa Thomas-Van Gundy says that possibility is not a priority, but she agrees with mossers who say they and others should be allowed to take non-timber products from the forest, including ginseng root and medicinal herbs like goldenseal, before the loggers destroy them.

Whether it's done sustainably or on the sly, there's little doubt mossing will continue.

Pat Muir, a botanist at Oregon State University, figures mossing was an $8.4 million to $33.7 million business in 2003, with anywhere from 4.2 million to 17 million pounds being harvested in the two dominant regions, Appalachia and the Pacific Northwest.

Data is hard to come by, and most moss dealers won't share sales figures, but Ms. Muir reached her conclusions by interviewing those who would talk, analyzing six years of export data from the U.S. Department of Commerce and making a series of assumptions.

Typically, moss pickers take their sacks to a processor, someone who dries and packages it, then sells it at a higher price to a wholesale distributor. But Ms. Muir says that's changing. In the Northwest, immigrants from Cambodia, Laos and Mexico have begun to form cooperatives, bypassing the buyer to contract with distributors.

In the southern coalfields of West Virginia, Robert Walker is also skipping the middleman. The ex-miner from Oceana has launched Pine Hill Moss, a small online business that sells directly to the user on eBay.

About 90 miles east, in the town of Rainelle, moss hangs bark-side-up on wires strung across a 5-acre lot, drying in the sun.

Jokes Tim Thomas, owner of Appalachian Root and Herb Co., "This is hillbilly laundry."


June 27, 2005