Traditional plant harvesting in contemporary fragmented and urban landscapes

Ecosystem fragmentation and destruction can lead to restrictive administration policies on traditional harvesting by indigenous peoples from remaining ecosystem tracts. In New Zealand, concerns about endangered species and governmental policies that focus on species and ecosystem preservation have resulted in severely curtailed traditional harvesting rights. Although provision has been made for limited gathering of traditional plants from government-administered conservation lands, it is unclear how much harvesting is undertaken on these lands and elsewhere and what this harvest might consist of. We interviewed seven expert Maori elders from the Waikato, New Zealand, to identify plant species they currently harvested and from where. We compared these data with the data we collected on permits issued for plant collecting on conservation lands in the same region. We sought to gain information on indigenous plant harvesting to determine the extent of permitted harvesting from conservation lands in the Waikato and to identify issues that might affect plant harvesting and management. Elders identified 58 species they harvest regularly or consider culturally important; over 50% of these species are harvested for medicinal use. Permit data from 1996 to 2006 indicated no apparent relationship between species of reported cultural significance and the number of permits issued for each of these species. Currently, few plant species are harvested from conservation lands, although some unofficial harvesting occurs. Elders instead reported that medicinal plants are frequently collected from urban and other public areas. They reported that plant species used for dyeing, carving, and weaving are difficult to access. Elders also discussed concerns such as spraying of roadsides, which resulted in the death of medicinal species, and use of commercial hybrids in urban planning. Local government may have an increasingly important role in supporting native traditions through urban planning, which takes account of cultural harvesting needs while potentially reducing future harvesting pressure on conservation lands. We suggest that active participation by the Māori community in the development and management of urban harvesting resources will result in positive outcomes.
Journal Article
Type of thesis
Wehi, P. M. & Wehi, W. L. (2010). Traditional plant harvesting in contemporary fragmented and urban landscapes. Conservation Biology, 24(2), 594-604.