Forest Service Prosecutes Illegal Ginseng Harvest

In a press release dated June 8th, the USDA Forest Service, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF), and the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) announced they are working to protect rare and threatened species on public lands in Virginia, including ginseng. Once abundant ginseng populations have declined over the last several decades in Virginia due to continued harvest of the plant for consumption and sale. In order to protect plant populations, ginseng collection is prohibited on most public lands in Virginia, including national forest land. Illegal collection of ginseng continues to be a problem.

Ginseng is a listed threatened species in the state of Virginia through the Endangered Plant and Insect Species Act.  The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries enforces state regulations on National Forest and Virginia state lands. VDGIF arrested 95 individuals in 2015 under ginseng-related charges, doubling the number of those charged in 2014.

Collecting any portion of the American ginseng plant for personal or commercial use from the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests is prohibited and comes with strict penalties, including a fine of up to $5,000, six months in jail or both. Despite these prohibitions, illegal collection of ginseng on the forest continues to be a problem.  In 2015, Forest Service Law enforcement charged 15 people with illegal harvest of ginseng.

Collecting ginseng, or any plant, is illegal on state natural area preserves by regulation of the Virginia Administrative Code. The only exception is for research purposes, and requires a research permit from the Department of Conservation and Recreation.

For generations people have harvested ginseng for profit and personal use in Virginia. Parts of the ginseng plant are used for consumption or for use as additives to food and cosmetic products. Some believe the ginseng plant to have special medicinal properties. In areas where collectors have been especially active for a long time or where entire plants are removed and seeds are not replanted, plant populations have diminished or disappeared altogether. Prevention of illegal harvest is required to ensure that ginseng populations persist in Virginia for the benefit of future generations.

Much of the ginseng harvested in North America is exported to Asia for processing and resale where overharvesting of native Asian ginseng has caused populations to decline to the point that it no longer meets demand.

Capt. Clarke Greene, acting chief of Law Enforcement for VDGIF, said “It’s difficult to get a clear picture of the extent of ginseng poaching in Virginia. DGIF takes the abuse of the state’s wildlife and natural resources very seriously and any efforts to get around conservation regulations will be strictly enforced.”

Story By

Scott Smith

Scott Smith is the General Manager for Allegheny Mountain Radio and Station Coordinator and News Reporter for WVLS. Scott’s family has deep roots in Highland County. While he did not grow up here, he spent as much time as possible on the family farm, and eventually moved to Highland to continue the tradition, which he still pursues with his cousin. Unfortunately, farming doesn’t pay all the bills, so he has previously taken other jobs to support his farming hobby, including pressman/writer for The Recorder, and Ag Projects Coordinator for The Highland Center. He lives in Hightown with wife Michelle and son Ethan. In his spare time, he wishes he had more spare time, especially to ride his prized Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

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