Thursday, September 18, 2014

Smokies Rangers Continue Fight Against Ginseng Poachers

Last week's NPS Morning Report announced in two separate postings that rangers have nabbed several ginseng poachers within Great Smoky Mountains National Park in recent months.

On August 6th, Rangers Wes Mullins and James Latendresse arrested Christopher Ian Jacobson, 31, of Cosby, Tennessee. Jacobson unsuccessfully attempted to flee from rangers upon being contacted, but was caught and placed into custody. Jacobson pleaded guilty to the illegal possession of 298 ginseng roots; he was sentenced to 80 days in prison and was ordered to pay a $1,000 fine.

This past July park rangers came upon an unoccupied vehicle parked along Little River Road in an area known for ginseng poaching and began surveillance of the area. After more than two hours, three men returned to the vehicle with dirty clothing and hands, which indicated that they’d been crawling on the ground on their hands and knees.

Field Training Ranger Will Jaynes and Field Trainee Zebulon Whitaker contacted the men. During the ensuing interview, the rangers observed several digging tools in the vehicle. All three subsequently admitted to illegally harvesting ginseng from the park. Several bags containing ginseng were located within the car. In all, 870 roots, more than five pounds, were recovered. All three men were issued mandatory appearance citations.

A week prior to this incident, Jaynes and Whitaker were working in the Greenbrier area of the park when they saw two men in possession of a tool that could easily be used for digging in the ground. An investigation revealed that both men were also in possession of illegally harvested ginseng from the park. In this case 29 roots were recovered. Both men were issued mandatory appearance citations. Acting Cosby Area Supervisor Chuck Hester assisted.

On June 28th Rangers Wes Mullins, James Latendresse and Jason Campos were conducting a backcountry patrol in an area of prime ginseng habitat when they spotted a man with a history of ginseng poaching. The rangers were able to move in on him without being detected.

The man – Billy Joe Hurley, 46, of Bryson City, North Carolina – was known to rangers as having a history of convictions for ginseng poaching and other offenses within the park. He was arrested for the illegal possession or harvesting of American ginseng from the park.

Hurley admitted to possessing 83 ginseng roots he had illegally dug from areas in the park and later pleaded guilty to the poaching charge in court – his fourth such conviction. On August 28th, he was sentenced to serve five months and fifteen days in prison.

Over the past 12 months, rangers have seized 2,345 illegally harvested ginseng roots from both North Carolina and Tennessee areas of the park and charged 26 individuals in connection with these crimes. In each case, once the roots were processed as evidence, rangers worked closely with staff from the park’s division of resource management and science to replant suitable roots elsewhere in the park.

Hiking in the Smokies

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