U.S. Magistrate Judge Dennis L. Howell sentenced Billy Joe Hurley, 46, of Bryson City, last week to serve five months and fifteen days in jail for the illegal possession or harvesting of American ginseng from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, announced Anne M. Tompkins, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina.
“Illegally harvesting American ginseng from federally protected land areas poses a serious danger to a plant that is part of our national heritage,” said Thompkins. “It is also a crime, and my office will continue to work closely with National Park Service Rangers to prosecute poachers who profit from the illegal harvesting and sale of this endangered national resource.”
Acting Chief Ranger Steve Kloster related, “Our rangers remain committed to protecting ginseng which is now locally threatened by poaching and recently placed on the North Carolina watch list for plants in peril due to exploitation. We are hopeful that this conviction will serve as a deterrent to others considering illegally taking this special resource.”
Acting Superintendent Cindy Macleod commented,“I am proud of the rangers who work to protect ginseng from poachers. Ginseng is a precious resource, a difficult plant to grow, and one that we have been using losing to illegal and unsustainable harvests as the forests are being robbed of younger and younger plants.”
According to the sentencing hearing and filed documents, on June 28, Hurley admitted to illegally possessing 83 American ginseng roots he had illegally dug from areas in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Hurley pleaded guilty to the poaching charge, which marked his fourth such conviction. Staff of the National Park Service replanted the recovered viable roots but estimate that, at best, 50 percent of the replanted roots are likely to survive.
At the sentencing hearing, a National Park Service botanist testified that the American ginseng species is under severe pressure from poachers in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and may not be sustainable if it continues to be harvested illegally. During the hearing, a special agent with of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also testified that financial gain is likely to continue to drive poachers and that fresh ginseng can bring up to $200 per pound on the black market.
In a separate case, on Aug. 6, Christopher Ian Jacobson, 31, of Cosby, Tenn., was sentenced to 80 days in prison and was ordered to pay a $1,000 fine. Jacobson pleaded guilty to the illegal possession of 298 roots of ginseng.