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Four Men Given Jail Time For Digging Up Gingseng In Great Smoky Mountains National Park


Jail terms ranging from 15 days to 120 days were handed to four men convicted of digging ginseng in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The plant long has been treasured by some for its perceived aphrodisiac qualities, as well as its use as a stimulant. However, it's long been illegal to dig up the plant in national parks.

According to the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina, four North Carolina men were sentenced last week in separate cases in United States District Court for the illegal possession or harvesting of American Ginseng from the national park.

U.S. Attorney Anne M. Tompkins identified the four as:

* Billy Joe Hurley, 45, of Bryson City, who was arrested on October 14, 2011, for harvesting ginseng. He possessed 187 ginseng roots. While executing a search warrant at Mr. Hurley’s residence, park rangers seized a list of places to harvest ginseng within the national park, ginseng digging tools, and newspaper clippings about prior incidents of ginseng poaching within the the park. Mr. Hurley was sentenced on October 26 to serve 120 days in jail.

* Mark S. Parham, 24, of Canton, was arrested in the Cataloochee Valley area of the the park. At the time of his arrest he possessed 176 ginseng roots. Mr. Parham, who has a prior conviction for harvesting ginseng on private land, was sentenced on October 26 to serve 40 days in jail.

* Anthony K. Sequoyah, Jr., 24, of Cherokee, was arrested on October 8 for harvesting ginseng. He possessed 150 ginseng roots, and was sentenced on October 26 to serve 52 days in jail.

* Trinity D. Frady, 25, of Cherokee, was arrested on October 9 for harvesting ginseng. He possessed 32 ginseng roots, and was sentenced on October 26 to serve 15 days in jail.

In all cases, the recovered viable ginseng roots were replanted by park staff.

“The illegal harvesting of American Ginseng poses a threat to this precious national resource,” said U.S. Attorney Tompkins. “Poaching ginseng is a crime our office takes seriously. We will continue to work closely with National Park Service rangers to protect wild ginseng from extinction by prosecuting those who profit from the illegal harvesting and sale of ginseng roots.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office reminds the public that gathering ginseng on federal lands, such as the Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is a federal crime.

The Smokies are the largest fully protected reserve known for wild ginseng. This plant was formerly abundant throughout the eastern mountains, but due to repeated poaching, populations have been reduced to a point that they can barely reproduce.

The roots poached in this park are usually young, between the ages of 5 and 10 years, and have not yet reached their full reproductive capacity. In time, the park’s populations might recover if poaching ceased.


Ginseng is the Appalachians’ most valuable legal crop, with the best profit potential. It could make forests profitable while owners wait for high-value timber to grow, but theft makes farming it impossible. The Appalachians are a poverty area because people can’t trust their neighbors to respect personal property and honest labor.

Ginseng isn't endangered. It's grown all over the world.

I remember seeing it when I was a kid. In the fall? With its red berry pods. I wonder how much logging affects it? Everybody seems to log around here as soon as the trees are the minimum size.

Ginseng isn't endangered. It's grown all over the world.

 Depends on the species. Wild ginseng fetches a premium price, and often they're getting scarce. One species in China is listed as an endangered species.

While American ginseng is farmed all over the world now, the wild plants are getting scarce. Those are the ones that are listed individually by states as threatened or endangered.

Panax quinquefolius is listed as endangered in two states and of "special concern" in North Carolina and Tennessee.

Ginseng is a legally protected plant in North Carolina, ranked as Special Concern, and is subject to certain regulations.

Always been some form and quantity of poaching but I don't think we've seen anything yet when you factor in the worsening economics and anti-reasonable job creation politics.   People's idea of reason changes when the obstacles to their survival are increasingly seen as discouraging if not impossible.  Food Stamps safety net?  That's always encouraging to the human spirit and independence, not.  Managed decline is not an option, either.   

Am I understanding your anonymous comment correctly? You defend poaching because of the economy? And you say that poaching is more dignified than using a social safety net that is legal and available?

I used food stamps for a couple of months 30-some years ago when I was broke and hungry. I've been gainfully employed ever since and never really figured that my dignity suffered. Never really occurred to me to steal endangered plants from a protected national park.

Poaching and stealing are conservative methods of exercising personal responbility.  As long as you don't take anything that might belong to one of them. 

No Lee, again no.  Redistribution of wealth is definitely not a conservative tenet.   Exclusively a Democratic, class warfare exercise at buying votes, period!  I'm at least, respectful.  Can't believe you posted what you did.  Certainly not deserving of posting on this site, I would think.  

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