NPS Digest is reporting this morning that while investigating a report of a suicidal person on March 24th, a Parkway ranger observed a driver operating a vehicle in a very suspicious manner in an area known for galax poaching. The ranger turned on the vehicle, and, as he approached, saw two men exit from it and flee into the adjacent woods, carrying duffle bags. The ranger later conducted a traffic stop and subsequently arrested the driver, identified as Oscar Rincon Reyes, of Spruce Pine, North Carolina, for illegally harvesting galax. Other rangers responded and a search of the adjacent woods yielded three duffle bags containing 15,000 galax leaves.
During the investigation, one of the other subjects was identified and an arrest warrant was obtained.
On March 27th, rangers and Mitchell County Sheriff’s Office deputies executed the warrant and arrested Francisco Rincon Felipe, also of Spruce Pine. Both Reyes and Felipe appeared before the U.S. magistrate, pled guilty to conspiracy to harvest galax, and were sentenced to 30 days in jail. Investigation is continuing to identify and prosecute the third conspirator.
Currently, local market value for galax leaves, used in floral arrangements, is two to six cents per leaf. Galax leaves are being sold for more than a dollar a leaf in the international flora trade and is estimated that galax harvesting is a $40 million a year industry in western North Carolina.
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