McBride, Shannon Elizabeth
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Since 1980 the harvesting of nontimber forest products has become an increasing concern of land managers, economic development organizations, and a variety of individuals interested in finding ways of earning a living in western North Carolina. Chief among these concerns are issues regarding who has the right to harvest these species, sustainability, marketability and profitability. Between the summer of 1997 and the fall of 2004 I explored these issues by conducting historical/archival and ethnographic research on the cultural history of ‘wildcrafting’ in Graham County, North Carolina. An emphasis was placed on ideas stemming from Political Ecology and Ethnoecology while also addressing several applied concerns. My results show that the number of ‘mountain people’ who are wild harvesting species from the forest in order to supplement their income is decreasing over time. Several factors are determining this trend including: diminishing access to resources, increasing degrees of land privatization, diminishing resources, the increasing amount of time and labor required to obtain nontimber forest products (NTFP’s), low prices being paid for NTFP’s and inconsistent markets. At the same time, however, increasing numbers of ‘outsiders’ are interested in cultivating these species and producing value-added products made from them. This dynamic has resulted in cultural conflicts over what are and are not appropriate standards of living and livelihood strategies. Current notions of wildcrafting pose a threat and a challenge to the identities of mountain people who have lived in Graham County for generations. This threat is locally perceived as being yet another stage in a ‘government’ effort to disenfranchise mountain people that began near the beginning of the twentieth century. Such beliefs, while often justified, pose an impediment and a challenge to organizations attempting to identify constructive ways of managing our nation’s public resources.