WVDNR Law Enforcement officers seize illegally harvested ginseng in southern West VirginiaBECKLEY, West Virginia – A year-long investigation by Natural Resources Police Officers in southern West Virginia has resulted in 11 arrests and the seizure of 190 pounds of dry ginseng that was illegally harvested before the ginseng digging season began Sept. 1. The estimated market value of the ginseng is $180,000.
In addition to the ginseng, officers also seized multiple stolen guns, illegal drugs and pills, and $30,000 in cash, according to Lt. Woodrow Brogan of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources Law Enforcement District 4 office in Beckley. District 4 includes the counties of Fayette, Greenbrier, Raleigh, Wyoming, McDowell, Mercer, Summers and Monroe.
"The legal digging and selling of ginseng root has been a part of the culture of southern Appalachia for more than a hundred years," Lt. Brogan said. "Many people in this area have supplemented their income by digging ginseng, almost all of which is exported to Asia. In the past, they took care to preserve the resource, but we've noticed in recent years an increase in people wanting to make a 'fast buck' by digging and selling as much ginseng as possible, both in season and out. Much of that increased activity includes unlicensed dealers trading illegal pills for ginseng root."
Working with officials with the West Virginia Division of Forestry, which regulates the ginseng digging season and licenses dealers, DNR police officers investigated and conducted two weeks of multiple raids on illegal diggers and dealers, confiscating the dry ginseng and other items.
Eleven arrests have been made to date and several more arrest warrants are expected in the near future as this is an ongoing investigation, according to Lt. Brogan.
About West Virginia's Ginseng Season
West Virginia's 2014 ginseng digging season began Sept. 1 and runs through Sunday, Nov. 30. The native herb grows in all of the state's 55 counties and is ready to harvest when its berries turn red. West Virginia state law requires "sengers," those who dig the root, to only harvest plants with three or more prongs. The number of prongs indicates the age of the plant. Only plants 5 years old and older can legally be harvested. In addition, sengers are required to replant the berries/seeds from the parent plant in the spot where they harvested it to help continue the species.
The following laws also apply to the harvesting of ginseng:
- No permit is needed to dig wild ginseng, but anyone digging ginseng on someone else's property must carry written permission from the landowner allowing him or her to harvest ginseng on the property.
- Digging ginseng on public lands, including state forests, wildlife management areas or state parks, is prohibited.
- Diggers have until March 31 of each year to sell to a registered West Virginia ginseng dealer or have roots weight-receipted at one of the Division of Forestry weigh stations.
- Possession of ginseng roots is prohibited from April 1 through Aug. 31 without a weight-receipt from the West Virginia Division of Forestry.