Illegal ginseng harvest occurring on national forest lands
WINCHESTER, Ky., July 14, 2015 – It’s not ginseng harvest season, but that’s not stopping some people from taking this uncommon plant. U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officials have issued several citations over the last few months that require mandatory court appearances.
Ronnie A. Stamper, 37, of Sandy Hook, Ky., was recently sentenced for the illegal harvest of ginseng from the Daniel Boone National Forest. He was cited in August 2014 and again on July 2 for the same offense.
Last week, Stamper pled guilty in federal court. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine for each offense, with the sentences running concurrently.
Ginseng is believed by many to contain medicinal properties that provide various cures. In some areas, the demand is greater than the supply. The illegal harvest and poor collection methods have eliminated or significantly reduced wild ginseng populations that were once abundant.
“If the trend of illegal harvest continues, we could see a dramatic decline of ginseng in Kentucky,” said Forest Botanist David Taylor.
“Ginseng root is being taken before the plants can develop seed for reproduction. Once these plants are gone, they’re not coming back.
“Ginseng populations are being decimated in some areas by illegal harvest,” added Taylor. “No plant species can be sustained when entire populations are being pulled up by the roots and not being reseeded.”
The legal harvest of ginseng in the Daniel Boone National Forest occurs over a two-week period, September 15-30. Individuals must have a valid permit, which allows for the collection of up to one pound of green, non-dried ginseng root. Only one permit is issued per person per year.
The Forest Service does not issue forest-wide permits. The permits are sold at district offices, and they are valid only on the district where they are sold.
Under U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regulations, ginseng roots collected must be from plants with at least three prongs and at least five years of age. The best way to determine age is by counting leaf scars at the top of the root before removing it from the ground.
Ginseng harvesters are required to sow seeds from collected plants within 50 feet of the harvest location.
On national forest lands, anyone removing forest products such as ginseng without a permit can be charged with unlawful taking under CFR 261.6h, resulting in up to a $5,000 fine and six months in jail. Some may also be prosecuted under the Lacey Act, a federal law that enforces civil and criminal penalties for the illegal trade of plants and animals.
The Kentucky Department of Agriculture requires registration as a ginseng dealer. A dealer is anyone who buys ginseng for resale or sells in interstate commerce.
The Kentucky state regulations and harvest season for ginseng are different from the rules that apply on the Daniel Boone National Forest. For more information, visit the state website at http://www.kyagr.com/marketing/ginseng.html and the DBNF website at http://www.fs.usda.gov/main/dbnf/passes-permits/forestproducts.