Expensive Medicinal Root Target Of Illegal Harvesting

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Wildlife law enforcement in the area have had to deal with an increase in poaching, but this time, it’s not live animals officials are concerned with.

Reports of illegal harvesting and activity related to wild ginseng have been on the rise, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

“We’ve seen an increase in the number of complaints from the public in the past year, year-and-a-half,” said Jay Abele, law enforcement supervisor for the department.

More than 60 pounds of illegally harvested ginseng root has been seized in Ohio this fall, and 125 summonses were filed in Southeast Ohio for “illegal activity related to harvesting wild ginseng,” according to a news release from natural resources officials.

There are strict rules in place to protect the ginseng, which is available primarily in Appalachian areas, according to Abele. The rules are in place to preserve the plant. High demand in Chinese medicinal markets makes its value currently at $600 to $800 per pound of the dried root.

The root can only be legally harvested between Sept. 1 and Dec. 31. While harvesters don’t need a permit to collect the ginseng, “diggers,” as the harvesters are called, have to have written permission from the property owner to get the ginseng. They must also keep accurate harvest records by county and collection date, according to Ohio law.

When harvesting the ginseng, diggers can only take plants that are “three-pronged,” Abele said, which indicates that they are mature plants with berries. Those berries must be replanted in the same spot as the ginseng was harvested to keep the crop going.

Fresh ginseng can be sold starting on Sept. 1, but dried ginseng can only be sold between Sept. 16 and March 31. An Ohio Ginseng Dealer’s Registration Permit is required to buy ginseng for resale or export outside of Ohio, according to ODNR documents.

Many of the violations reported by the ODNR, some of which occurred in Athens, Hocking, Perry and Washington counties, were for harvesting the ginseng out of season, digging without permission, failing to keep “digger records,” buying or selling before the season was open, buying ginseng without a dealer permit, possession of dry “uncertified “ ginseng during closed season, harvesting immature plants and failure to immediately replant berries, according to the natural resources release.

Some of the offenses carry misdemeanor penalties, especially if the ginseng is harvested on state forest lands, such as Wayne National Forest, Abele said. A permit is required to collect ginseng in the national forest.