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Illegal harvest of wild ginseng on the rise: Warden seeks public help

Published: August 23, 2012 in Crime Stoppers

By: Joanne M. Haas/Bureau of Law Enforcement

More thieves trespassing: ‘Stealing out of landowners’ back yards’


Wild Ginseng Plant

Wild Ginseng Plant

Conservation Warden Cody Adams is asking private landowners and public land users to help stop the theft and destruction of Wisconsin’s wild ginseng crop by camouflage-dressed thieves illegally ripping the root from the ground leaving little chance of its long-term survival.

“Wisconsin’s wild ginseng is a wonderful resource, and we want to make sure we have it for our kids and grandkids,” the Crawford County-based warden says. “There’s a right way and a wrong way to harvest it – and a designated time. These thieves are pulling the root from the ground causing damage that could prevent the plant from surviving and regrowing.”

The incentive? Money, and grabbing the plants now before the ginseng season opens on September 1.

“People looking for a quick buck creates an incentive to do things they shouldn’t be doing,” Adams says of a ginseng market price that may increase from $200 per pound last year to $500 or more. “It is just theft. People are stealing money out of the landowners’ back yards. It’s our job to help folks protect these resources on private and public land.”

Adams is handling an increase in the number of complaints in Crawford County concerning strangers caught on trail cams or spotted on private acres by landowners who have no idea why.

The thieves are not just at work on private lands. This is also happening on public lands. It is illegal to harvest wild ginseng on state property – including the state lands along the Lower Wisconsin Riverway which is in Adams’ jurisdiction.

“The majority of the landowners and individuals have heard of ginseng. It’s in energy drinks and other products now. But, there are a lot of landowners who don’t know how well it grows in Wisconsin,” Adams says. “So they are really wondering why they are seeing these strangers on their lands or walking by their trail cams.”

Adams says it is important that landowners become well-versed about wild ginseng and how it grows so well in southwest Wisconsin.

“Wisconsin ginseng is pure and very good, making it in demand in Asia,” Adams says.

It’s illegal and the damage is undeniable

Adams says these thieves are breaking a lot of laws when it comes to taking the plant before the opening of the ginseng season. “First of all, you must have a ginseng harvester license,” he says, adding the license is $15.75 for a resident.

If you are going to legally harvest from a private land, you must have the owner’s permission or it is trespassing.

When you harvest the wild ginseng plant, you must immediately bury its berries to ensure the plant grows back. “This is another problem with the early harvest. Sometimes the plants are immature to the point of not having berries. Harvesting those immature plants hurts ginseng’s chances to thrive in the future,” he says.

Adams knew of one farmer who had been dutifully watching his ginseng patch for 15 years – only to find it one morning cleaned out by trespassers who left nothing in their wake.

“A legal plant can take a long time to grow – and these thieves are just taking everything.”

Call your warden or the Hotline

Recruit Warden Tony Young, who assisted Adams on a recent case that resulted in the seizure of 5 pounds of illegally harvested wild ginseng from public lands, stressed the importance of new landowners in the southwest region being knowledgeable about wild ginseng growing on their properties.

“If you see people on your land, or a car parked in a place near your land and you have no idea what the people are doing, ginseng theft could be a potential reason,” Young says.

The wardens say the best course of action when you spot something unusual or see a stranger on your land who could be harvesting wild ginseng illegally is to call your local warden or call the DNR Violation Hotline – 1-800-847-9367. It is staffed 24 hours, 7 days a week. Callers may remain anonymous.

To learn more about ginseng, visit this DNR web page: http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/endangeredresources/ginseng.html

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Last Revised: Thursday, August 23, 2012