"Forest Service law enforcement officers conducted a large number of compliance checks in September, and at least eight people received misdemeanor citations because they did not have a permit to harvest ginseng in the national forests," said Bail. "Law enforcement officers will continue to focus their attention on people who collect ginseng outside of the legal harvest season in the future."
Conservationists, botanists and others are concerned about the decline of ginseng populations, and poaching may eventually cause harvests to be restricted.
Visitors to the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests must obtain a permit to collect ginseng during the designated harvest season, which runs September 1-30. Ginseng permits cost $40 per wet pound. An individual may purchase up to 3 wet pounds annually. Harvest is prohibited in Wilderness and Natural Areas.
Removing any plant or its parts from national forest land without a permit or outside of the legal harvest season is considered theft. Every national forest plant is public property, which means plant thieves are robbing taxpayers of a resource that is collectively owned. Penalties for plant poaching may include a fine up to $5,000 or six-month sentence in federal prison, or both.
"Unfortunately, not everyone respects the rules, and there are times when we need to take action. In recent years, the punishment for ginseng poaching has included up to 30 days in jail for a first-time, misdemeanor offense in some western North Carolina cases," said Bail. "Poachers need to understand that the federal courts are taking plant theft, as well as wildlife poaching, very seriously and that the penalties for such acts may be harsh."
Ginseng root has been favored as a tonic with exports to East Asia for the past two-and-a-half centuries. In North Carolina, the plant primarily occurs in the mountains and is sparse in the piedmont.
The Forest Service continues to monitor the harvest in the national forests in North Carolina to ensure the future viability of the plant.
For more information on harvesting ginseng in the national forests in North Carolina, visit:
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