There seems to be an increased focus on the alarming Texas peyote situation. A couple of weeks ago the Houston Press published a mournful, in-depth article on the vanishing peyote populations and the implications to the Native American Church.
The inside of a peyote button tastes like a dirty raw potato, with a jalapeño backbite
The article features interviews with two (out of three remaining!) peyoteros, Mauro Morales and Salvador Johnson, describing their increasing problems in finding peyote due to root-plowing, over-collection and fencing of land for hunting.
"There's some medicine, right there," he [Mauro Morales] says. It's a lone peyote button, about an inch in diameter, way too small to harvest. It'll be another five years before this peyote is mature. As he navigates the hostile flora, he points to three more small peyote plants, all of them too young to cut.
"I used to collect as much in a week as I now do in a month," he says. "I don't know what's going to happen to the medicine."
Morales almost never utters the word "peyote." For him, the small green-gray cactus is a sacrament with miraculous healing powers, hence his word for it: medicine.
What makes peyote different from just about any other cactus in the world is that it naturally produces mescaline, a psychedelic alkaloid that can induce hallucinations lasting for days.
Cactus stickers and the occasional rattlesnake are all in a day's work for Mauro Morales when he goes hunting for peyote
Salvador Johnson used to be a full-time peyotero, but guiding hunting trips pays better these days
To protect against poachers getting in and deer getting out ranchers are increasingly fencing and patrolling their grounds. The ranchers' hands-off policy represents a dilemma for Martin Terry, the world's leading authority on peyote. On the one hand, protection against peyoteros will conserve the cactus. On the other, it prevents Indians from getting access to their sacred plant.
"From the point of view of the plant, the only threat is overharvesting," he says. "The fences and personnel that protect ranch lands from would-be harvesters are the very opposite of a threat, as the protected populations of peyote inside those fences are the only healthy ones in South Texas."
Still, Terry is sensitive to the peyoteros and their way of life. He considers Mauro Morales a personal friend. He wants to make sure that Indians have access to their cactus, but that's getting harder and harder.
The whole situation seems more and more like a gordian knot in dire need of a bold solution. The available natural peyote populations in Texas are over-harvested and not given time to replenish. At the same time many NAC members are opposed to cultivating the plant. One possible solution could be to import peyote from Mexico where the plants are still plentiful; but that might at the same time export the peyote conservation crises!
You can read more on the Texas peyote situation in these posts: The “Peyote Gardens” of South Texas: a conservation crisis?, Troubled times for Texas peyote harvesters, and In Deep South Texas, peyote harvest dwindling.
The full Houston Press article and related videos are available here: Mescaline on the Mexican Border, Video: Two Peyoteros on the Mexican Border, Video: Peyote, Breakfast of Champions, and Video: Peyote in Real de Catorce