National Parks Poached For The Floral Industry
As an environmentalist and eco florist, it is a 24/7 task of constant research and eye monitoring in all areas of the floral industry. Just when it seems I have discovered and conquered one issue, 5 others crop up and side wind me; again making me ashamed of my chosen field that I fight to preserve against all sort of forces; and I love so much. To me, it must be akin to meeting the love of your life, and then through the years finding they have a double side to them that is dark and dirty, secretive, and just a plain lie. A side that challenges everything you believe in, thought you knew and trusted, and a side that violates you. It is heartbreaking; and I am ashamed of myself for not investigating further on this suspicion I have harbored for the last 10 years when I was first told that, ” salal is an invasive tree in plentiful supply that grows everywhere out west”. And I believed them.
This is how I feel this month after reading the Sierra Club’s account of yet another environmental assault because of floristry in the Olympia National Park in Washington state. Photographer/writer Greg Bleakney* investigated the illegal pillage of millions and millions of tons of salal leaves, moss, bear grass, and conifer branches for the floral trade each year, illegally. One more secret and heinous act for money. These 4 products are stocked at every florist in the world, and 4 of my own favorite things to use on a daily basis. They are highly sought after in Europe (especially by the Dutch designers) and evidently a lucrative, US export legal or illegally taken. Salal leaf is included in every one of my hand tied bouquets, while bear grass wisps from each design. The cedar boughs are a sacred aromatic as my must have woodland accent, and the moss is everywhere in my store. All the evergreens touted “grown on west coast farms” are something I await anxiously each November.
The center of this pillage is Olympia National Park. A temperate forest and a jewel of the northwest that is home to a rare eco system of flora and fauna. It was also the inspiration for the Twilight movies with its misty shrouds, and ancient trees dripping of moss and ferns. A place of wild and wildlife supposedly protected from any attack of human degradation according to the federal government. Along with what I always question as alleged, sustainable harvesting; there is a huge black market to fulfill the demand for 100 million dollars worth of 27 million pounds of salal exported each year. Money and the environment, the constant war. According to the expose, the Department of Natural Resources, private landowners and packing houses called brush sheds, issue local permits to legally harvest forest products in certain areas.
The Department however, is severely under manned (due to government cuts or I suspect also turning the blind eye) with only 8 officers to patrol over 5 million acres; doing the best they can. This poaching is no different from the drug or animal trade, and operates the same. When one set of poachers is caught, another set moves in. The thought is I’m sure; with so many acres who cares if some is pillaged and it’s free? But 27 million pounds is a bit more than ‘some’. That’s how the American buffalo disappeared. Thoughts of my favorite quote emerge; “every day we lose 116 square miles of rainforest, or about an acre a second. And… how every day we will lose 40-100 species and no one knows if the number is 40 or 100.”**
Just SW of the park is the Native American reservation of the Quinault tribe that Gregg quoted reservation, resource protection officer James Smith who reported in 2010 the ravaging of 40-80 acres of bear grass in just one season. They are now hard pressed to find any quality, grass for even their basket weaving. In the same year, a hunter came upon poachers who had destroyed two, separate, multi acre stands of trees taking 40,000 lbs of white pine boughs for the holiday wreath trade; leaving bare branches. All I see in my mind are the massive stacks of bundled wreaths for sale everywhere in November, and now wonder if the trees were raped for our Holiday doors. Worse, I further wonder if all the wreaths I have sold up to now have been from an honest, sustainable source or were they from an old growth forest.
And about the moss…When I was a young camper, even then I would always search out the moss beds. They were soft, warm, and clean being a natural antiseptic. This affinity for moss is still evident in the store as I use it every day in some design context or display. Obviously, I am not the only moss lover as the amount taken for the floral trade every year is estimated in the “tens of millions of pounds”. I am dismayed at the sheer volume of that figure. We only have 60,000 retail & wholesale florist in the US, so I am assuming another export. In Olympia it is pulled from the forest floor and stripped from the trees-with the tree bark. It can’t possibly all be grown on moss farms as I am told-so again I ask myself; where are all these boxes of moss coming from really. Moss is an ancient and important plant to the eco system, taking years to cover the ground. As you well know, if you have ever had a shady spot in your yard; a 5 inch clump will take quite a while to grow to 3 ft. I watch mine patiently.
A few summers ago, I was having a nice conversation with a Florida native about my stance on offering only ‘US grown” products and mentioned that my cut ferns are grown there. He asked which farms they were grown on and when I asked why, he hesitated but told me he had worked around many of those farms. After an awkward silence, he informed me that not all the ferns packaged in FLA boxes are created equal and they are actually supplementing their crops with South American grown and…. repackaging them in Florida. He was a truck driver who delivered fresh products from the Miami airport. That airport is the main eastern hub for imported flowers and plants from South America, and that’s exactly where these shipments were from. I thanked this man for his time and conversation and walked away both deflated and elated that I had yet uncovered another secret.
You can learn so much by talking with people, asking questions, and reading even the most unlikely publications. The Sierra Club is known for its environmental mindset so I read it faithfully; John Muir’s writings have always inspired me. However, when I read this month’s issue, little did I know I would find anything related to the floral industry, nor chatting with a man who I seemingly had nothing in common with, but yet who brought information unknown and so important to me. I encourage, no I implore you to ask where your floral and plant purchases are from and who grew them. 85% of all flowers are grown outside the US while most of the houseplants come over the border from Canada. Bryan Adams is a super guy, and I adore Celine Dion, but I wish the Canadians would keep their plants for their own-the journey here kills one third of them, and the rest succumb to big box neglect.
I will again be sharpening my microscope to the chain of product in the store from now on and I will never assume anything again. A mantra my Mother forever quotes; and another example of who to listen to and who not to.
Forever thinking of the trees,
Always I thank the SierraClub.org
**my praise to photographer/writer Greg Bleakney gbleakney.com
*** my admiration to David Orr professor of environmental studies Oberlin College….who wrote that 17 years ago, I can’t imagine the tally now