Many American Herbal Products Association members - growers, processors, manufacturers and marketers of herbal products -are involved in commercial activities using native plants that grow on public land. The Forest Service oversees replanting native plants when necessary, therefore AHPA wants it to adopt the stricter definition of "native plants" used by other agencies so as to ensure no species are wrongfully introduced.
The issue over the definition highlights the importance of nationally sourced herbs within the industry as well as the vulnerability of native plants and how human interference and regulatory issues affect them.
"A lot of the ingredients we use are wild-harvested," AHPA president Michael McGuffin told NutraIngredients-USA.com. "If the managers of the public land don't protect the native species it affects our industry."
In May, the US Department of Agriculture's Forest Service issued a proposed directive on native plant materials to the Forest Service Manual (FSM) 2070. AHPA has requested that one sentence in a section on policy be changed so as to ensure clarity.
The proposed FSM 2070 defines "native plants" as:
"All indigenous, terrestrial, and aquatic plants species that evolved naturally in an ecosystem."
McGuffin said AHPA finds the definitions used by other bodies, such as that of the Fish and Wildlife Service or the Plant Conservation Alliance, to be superior because they take the crucial issue of human intervention into account.
And while McGuffin admits it may seem like AHPA is "splitting hairs" over the issue, he says it is important all federal agencies are on the same page with their definition of native plants so as to ensure these botanicals are effectively protected.
"We think that as a trade association we need to be in communication with any organizations that sticks their finger in our pie," said McGuffin.
AHPA does agree with the Forest Service's commitment to replanting native plants when they are available and never to introduce non-native invasive plants, said McGuffin. Its only argument is over the fine line of how to define what these native plants actually are.
The Fish & Wildlife Service defines "native" to mean:
"With respect to a particular ecosystem, a species that, other than as a result of introduction, historically occurred or currently occurs in that ecosystem."
The Plant Conservation Alliance defines "native plant species" as:
"….one that occurs naturally in a particular habitat, ecosystem, or region of the United States and its territories or possessions, without direct or indirect human actions."
According to AHPA's 2002-2003 "Tonnage survey of wild-harvested North American plants", the four highest volume wild and cultivated herbal commodities in the US are: black cohosh root, slippery elm bark, cascara sagrada bark and goldenseal root.