For the love of ginseng

Wild ginseng has long been coveted in Native American and Asian cultures  for its presumed medicinal properties. More recently, it has been touted as a valuable herbal remedy in the U.S. Wild ginseng has been harvested to the edge of extinction in China. This fact, coupled with a growing demand domestically, has catapulted prices for the root to unprecedented levels. The result: unprecedented levels of ginseng harvesting, which has decimated many wild populations.

In recognition of the mounting ginseng crisis, a multilateral agreement was adopted in 1975 to impose restrictions on ginseng imports and exports. Under those terms, exporters must obtain a federal permit. Most states have restricted ginseng harvest to a few months in the fall and require diggers to obtain permits. However, ginseng harvesting in a national park is entirely prohibited.

But prohibitions don’t stop poachers, and many areas in Shenandoah National Park that once harbored lush communities of ginseng are now bare. A joint undercover operation in 2004 that included the National Park Service, FBI and state and local agencies revealed a multi-million dollar international black market trade in black bears and ginseng. A total of 487 state violations and 204 federal violations were documented.

Shenandoah National Park Rangers have prosecuted numerous ginseng poaching cases over the years and have made several cases within the past few months. Sentencing can include restitution, fines, banishment from the national park and incarceration.