Pilfering Plants is Poaching, Too
If you associate poaching only with those ne’er-do-wells who take game animals illegally or out-of-season, here are some examples of another type of outdoor thief—the plant poacher.
Rooting Out Root Poachers
Investigators in Ohio believe rising unemployment and a tough economy is driving some ginseng diggers in the state to illegally harvest the root on private land and out of season.
As a result, State Wildlife Officers from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife have been contacting many Ohio ginseng dealers and diggers as part of an ongoing investigation. Officers have identified more than 30 individuals and 60 violations of Ohio law relating to ginseng root harvesting. As the investigation continues, authorities say formal charges will likely include digging ginseng without landowner permission, collecting or possession of ginseng during the closed season, failure to maintain accurate records and failure to certify ginseng prior to export.
The perennial herb is one of the most sought-after medicinal plants in the world. American ginseng occurs from Quebec, Canada, west to Minnesota and south to Georgia and Oklahoma.
Ohio certifies about 3,000 pounds of ginseng for export annually. There are 46 licensed ginseng dealers in the state with an estimated two to four thousand diggers. The number of diggers/harvesters varies annually depending on market conditions.
Last year, 3,626 pounds of ginseng were legally harvested in Ohio and sold to dealers at around $400 a pound. The value of the dried wild root fluctuates, and was as high as $1,000 per pound a few years ago.
Berry Bushes Being Brutalized
The U.S. Forest Service is warning over-enthusiastic huckleberry hoarders on Northwestern U.S. public lands that stripping limbs or cutting bushes to more easily access berries may result in a penalty of up to 6 months in jail and/or up to $5,000 fine.
Spokane Spokesman-Review outdoors scribe Rich Landers reported last week that in more than one instance, pickers have been observed cutting a pickup load of huckleberry brush and then picking berries from the brush they cut.
The huckleberry bush, perhaps the most revered shrub in the Inland Northwest, is getting less respect as berry pickers succumb to greed, say public lands managers.
Gathering the succulent berries is a long-time tradition among families and outdoors enthusiasts who often return to the same patches year-after-year beginning around mid-July, but it’s likely they aren’t among the plant abusers, authorities agree.
Huckleberries like most berries, grow only on the current year’s plant growth. If the plant is cut off at the ground, the plant is destroyed. Something else will grow in its place before the huckleberry can regrow, thus destroying the entire patch for future crops.
Sniffing Out Plant Poachers
Dogs trained to track the scent of a special dye are being used to collar ginseng poachers in North Carolina.
Jim Corbin, a plant protection specialist with the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, uses a German shepherd and a Doberman to pick up on the scent of the dye, which federal land managers are using to mark ginseng roots.
For centuries, ginseng has been valued as a medicinal plant. Today the root’s derivatives continue to be popular worldwide as a tonic and herbal supplement.
In 2001, nearly 6,800 pounds of the wild root was harvested in North Carolina. It can be collected by permit on some national forest land and on private land with permission from the landowner. Last year, prime ginseng fetched nearly $400 a pound on the wholesale market.
The dye was originally developed in 1993 so rangers in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park could easily identify roots taken from the park illegally. Since then, more than 20,000 plants scattered through the park have been marked with the bright orange color. Park workers place the dye near the roots, and as the plant pulls moisture from the ground, it soaks up the dye.
With the added use of the specially trained canines, poachers who have attempted to remove the dye prior to selling it to wholesalers are being sniffed out in growing numbers.