Federal Prosecutions for Ginseng Violations Continue Throughout Kentucky
Jim Gale, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Southeast Region, announced today that on April 18, 2007, James Cheek (Scottsville), Bobby Thompson (Olive Hill), and Cecil Moore (Tompkinsville), were sentenced in United States District Court, Western District of Kentucky in Bowling Green for engaging in the interstate commerce of unlawfully purchased wild ginseng. James Cheek was sentenced to pay a $10,000 fine for violations of the Lacey Act. Thompson and Moore were each sentenced to pay a $1,000 fine for their respective roles in also violating the Lacey Act.
The Lacey Act makes it a federal violation to import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire, or purchase in interstate or foreign commerce any fish, wildlife or plants, taken, possessed, transported, or sold in violation of any law or regulation of any state.
The investigation, conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement, in cooperation of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, began in November 2004, when special agents with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service started making undercover sales of ginseng to licensed and unlicensed ginseng dealers across Kentucky. During the course of the 21-month undercover investigation a 95 percent violation rate was documented with 30 percent of Kentucky’s ginseng dealers investigated.
The most common violations were ginseng dealers buying ginseng outside the established state ginseng season and the submission of false documents to conceal those out of season purchases. The Kentucky ginseng digging season opens August 15 of each year, and the selling season opens September 1.
“The State digging and selling season is closed during the spring and summer months,” said Bob Snow, a special agent with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement, in Louisville, Kentucky. “Seasons are established to ensure that ginseng plants reach maturity each year and produce seeds prior to being harvested; thereby ensuring the sustainability of the wild ginseng population.”
State law requires those seeds to be planted within 50 feet of the producing plant. According to SA Snow, “It’s been difficult for a ginseng dealer trying to comply with the ginseng regulations to complete with other dealers who are willing to buy ginseng all year.”
Ginseng dealers typically pay less than the market value of the roots
when they buy it out of season, then as a result of the increased profit
they make from the out of season ginseng, these same dealers can afford
to pay more than their competitors once season opens.
The wild ginseng trade in Kentucky is a $5 to $8 million industry. Kentucky is the largest supplier of wild ginseng in the United States, averaging approximately 16 percent of the national harvest annually. The average wholesale value of wild ginseng to a root digger varies between $300 and $500 per pound.
The Kentucky Department of Agriculture implements the ginseng management program in Kentucky, which is required by federal regulations in order for Kentucky’s ginseng to be eligible for export from the United States. A high percentage of Kentucky’s ginseng is exported to Southeast Asia where it is used in the medicinal trade.
Jim Gale, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southeast Region, reported that the Kentucky investigation was part of a regional focus on the illegal and lucrative ginseng trade, and that similar investigations were also conducted in North Carolina and Georgia during the past three years. Gale stated these investigations were necessary to ensure that both the historical traditional aspect and the important economic benefits to the rural communities which benefit from the ginseng trade can continue in the South.
Additional federal prosecutions as a result of this investigation are pending across Kentucky.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 547 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 63 Fish and Wildlife Management offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to State fish and wildlife agencies.
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