Cedar Bark Gathering – a Sustainable Practice

I was not familiar with the activity called Cedar Bark Gathering when I visited White Horse Golf Club.  Located west of Seattle on Kitsap Peninsula in Kingston, Washington, and owned by the Suquamish Indian Tribe, White Horse is surrounded by Puget Sound and Hood Canal near Olympic National Forest. My visit to this site was part of their participation in the Classic Program.

Designed by Cynthia Dye McGarey, the course sits between the Olympic and Cascade Mountains and winds through 456 acres of old-growth cedar, spruce, fir, and hemlock and alongside preserved wetlands.  Those old-growth cedars are the trees that are the focus of the Cedar Bark Gathering.

As an organization, Audubon International promotes sustinable practices and has been doing so since 1991.  But ‘sustaining resources’ is not a new concept.  Tribes of the Pacific Northwest have always practiced sustainable resource management.  Harvesting only what is needed and leaving enough for future generations are tribal ways of existence.  The cedar gathering is one of those management practices. 

In gathering the cedar bark, care is taken not to over harvest from one tree so as not to damage the standing tree, but to allow for continued growth so there is a sustainable supply of bark.  Harvesting is done in the spring and fall and only 1/4 of a tree can be stripped at one time.  Typically bark is harvested when the dogwoods bloom in May and June — when it’s hot but not too hot.  At that time, the outer bark comes off easily, exposing the inner bark. 

Ancestors of western Washington tribes relied on cedar bark as a resource for making items for everyday use.  The inner bark of the western red cedar (Thuja plicata) is used in weaving in particular.  Today, tribal members continue harvesting and teaching the handicraft to the next generation by making traditional items such as baskets, hats, vests, rugs, and tools.

During the visit, we observed several trees on the periphery of the golf course that had been stripped and which still seemed very healthy.  Because access to plants and trees for traditional uses has become increasingly difficult for tribal members, there is the possibility of ‘cedar gathering’ becoming an ongoing activity within the White Horse property.  We view this as an opportunity to help sustain a culture while protecting the environment as well as demonstrate the social aspect of sustainability.

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