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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.


Certainly there are places in the world where poverty and/or opportunity includes poaching for small cash sales or perhaps substance. The hunting of great apes for bushmeat is rather controversial.

However, I'm wondering how much someone could really get for wild American ginseng. I remember seeing the Travel Channel show Cash & Treasures where they legally dug up wild American Ginseng on Forest Service land in West Virginia. What I remember about that show is that they paid for a digging permit for maybe $20 and they contacted a local buyer who was willing to weigh and buy it. In the end he said that the show host's output (less than a pound) for one day could be sold (at wholesale prices) to him for maybe $30, but she could probably get more for it if she sold it to a Chinese herb shop in a large Chinatown. I'd also be surprised that as a reputable dealer if he didn't check the paperwork of the people selling to him. The host eventually took it to a shop in Los Angeles's Chinatown near where the show is based. The shop bought the ginseng for maybe $140.

I found this 2009 media release from Daniel Boone National Forest in Kentucky:

Of course there is a bigger reason why some people poach on protected lands. There hasn't been as much harvesting, you don't worry about limits as you would in public lands where a permit is needed, and there are probably better plants because fewer people have been harvesting in these areas over the years.

A truer statement has never been spoken although it's truer now than when Clinton said it almost 20 years ago.  "It's the economy stupid!"

People need to remember that there are two kinds of "redistribution of wealth."  Upward and downward.

In the past few years, we've seen a lot of both.  It all depends upon where you stand in the economic spectrum.

I just read an excellent quote, "We need to remember that a true patriot loves his country, but realizes that it can always improve."  The trick is finding a way that we all, no matter where we stand on the spectra of economics or opinion, can somehow find a common point of agreement.

I just started reading Tom Brokaw's new book, "The Time of Our Lives."  From what I've read so far, I'm thinking it should be required reading for all Americans.

Correction:  If a family NEEDED meat or fish to feed their families....

Rick, not endorsing anything but taking steps to encourage, not discourage this economy. Look around the world at depressed or nearly nonexistent economies and what options people look to.  Congratulations on your proper use of Food Stamps.  That's what it was designed for.   I believe it's very serious out there and things just can't be explained away.  If a family didn't meat or fish to feed their families in recent times, they go get some.  There was the hunter gatherer gene that somewhere down in the dark corners of the increasing Food Stamp culture, it remains.   

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.  

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. 

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.

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