MIDDLESBORO, Ky. - Rangers in Cumberland Gap National Historic Park are watching for visitors who try to take away more than memories.
Lead field ranger Gene Wesloh says rangers are catching more ginseng poachers than in the past. Wesloh told The Daily News ( http://bit.ly/JHFexF) that cameras, remote sensing units and a ginseng marking program are reducing theft of the root, which is popular in energy drinks and as an aphrodisiac. Wesloh also said rangers are spending more time in the woods searching for poachers.
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.
"As ginseng becomes increasingly rare, poachers naturally look inside our boundary, and we will do whatever we can to push back against that," Wesloh said.
Digging for ginseng in the park, which borders Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia, has become something of a tradition. But taking the root from national parklands is illegal.
Park staff recently obtained a conviction for one of the ginseng poachers caught last year after he was arrested on a warrant in Lexington, Ky. Jeffrey Langford pleaded guilty and was fined $250, ordered to pay more than $1,900 in restitution to the park, and banned for three years from park lands.
Jenny Beeler, who leads the Resource Management division for the park, said the efforts are about protecting the park. Even though it is a public place, people will look to take what they can sell, Beeler said.
"So long as there is money to be made, some people will rob the park by taking things that we all share," Beeler said.
Beeler points out that park workers are also involved in marking and mapping ginseng locations and replanting the poached ginseng roots whenever possible.
"When times are hard, people will look for ways to make money. Stealing ginseng from the park isn't like stealing a stereo, though," Beeler said. "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."
Cumberland Gap National Historical Park: http://www.nps.gov/cuga.
Information from: The Daily News, http://www.middlesborodailynews.com
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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