Moss gathering worries biologists, few others

Valued by florists and craft mavens as basket liner and wreath adornment, moss is a hot commodity, according to several researchers raising concerns about the loosely regulated moss-gathering industry. Moss harvesters roam public and private lands scraping the plant from logs and boulders at an estimated rate of 10 million to 40 million pounds per year. In areas where any commercial harvest is illegal, such as Washington’s Olympic National Park, moss poachers — yes, poachers — sometimes hide burlap bags of moss until they can be removed from the park under cover of darkness. Although no moss species are endangered, or even threatened, mosses do play an important role in ecosystems and ecologists worry about their slow regeneration rates — only 1 percent a year in some cases, meaning it could take a century to return an area to its original Lord of the Rings-esque splendor. Says biologist Nalini Nadkarni, “If we don’t come up with ways to provide an alternative, then we’re stuck with naked branches.” And we wouldn’t want that.