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.