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Contact: Dirk Wiley, (606) 248-2817, extension 1054
Digging ginseng has been an Appalachian tradition for generations, but rangers at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park want visitors to know that "what grows in the park, stays in the park."
Park staff recently obtained a conviction for one of the ginseng poachers caught last year after he was arrested on a warrant in Lexington, Kentucky. Rangers were notified that Jeffrey Langford was in jail in Lexington, and he was taken before the federal magistrate where he pleaded guilty. The result was a $250 fine, more than $1,900 in restitution paid to the park, and a three year ban from park lands.
"We're definitely catching more ginseng poachers," said Lead Field Ranger Gene Wesloh. "We're spending more time in the woods, and we're investing in more technology. We've been using cameras and remote sensing units for years, and this year we've begun the ginseng marking program."
The program Wesloh mentioned has actually been in place for many years at other parks, and involves marking each individual ginseng root with a special dye and a "taggant" of metal chips that shows the origin location of the root. The combination makes it possible to prove that the root came from the park, and the only way to remove the marker destroys the value of the root when it comes time to sell.
"We are a national park, and a ranger's job is protecting and preserving the park and everything in it. As ginseng becomes increasingly rare, poachers naturally look inside our boundary, and we will do whatever we can to push back against that."
Jenny Beeler, who leads the Resource Management division for the park, looks at ginseng poaching in almost the same way. "It's all about protecting the park," said Beeler. "But law enforcement isn't enough by itself. So long as there is money to be made, some people will rob the park by taking things that we all share."
Beeler points out that park staff is also involved in marking and mapping ginseng locations, replanting the poached ginseng roots whenever possible, and always in educating to explain why this is so important. "When times are hard, people will look for ways to make money. Stealing ginseng from the park isn't like stealing a stereo, though. Each year the poaching slowly reduces the total number of plants, and weakens what is left. Eventually the ginseng disappears and can never be replaced."