COLUMBUS, Ohio (WJW) — More than 100 people were charged following a two-year investigation into the illegal trafficking of ginseng in seven states, including Ohio.
American ginseng is a slow-growing perennial herb with medicinal properties that’s found throughout the state in “small, scattered populations,” according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
Ohio is one of 19 states with a ginseng management program, which allows for the plant’s legal export and keeps it from being harvested too quickly, according to the release. Ginseng can only be harvested in Ohio between Sept. 1 and Dec. 31. Only mature plants can be harvested, and harvesters are required to plant the seeds from collected plants in the same spot.
The investigation by ODNR’s Division of Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spanned 21 counties in Ohio, as well as West Virginia, Virginia, New York, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Indiana. It targeted both licensed and unlicensed ginseng dealers, and those who dug for ginseng out of season.
Investigators obtained warrants to search, get cell phone records and use GPS tracking. Authorities filed more than 250 charges, for illegally harvesting or buying ginseng or failing to keep records, among other offenses. Seven people were also also charged with making or selling illicit drugs.
Defendants were ordered to serve a combined more than 2,000 days in jail. Those sentenced on the drug crimes were sentenced to 12 years to 15 years in prison. Others had their permits to deal ginseng revoked or were suspended from digging.
Ginseng and yellow root forfeited during this investigation and others were sold at auction for more than $51,000, which went toward the state’s Wildlife Diversity Fund.
To report a wildlife violation, call the Division of Wildlife’s poacher tip line at 1-800-POACHER (1-800-762-2437).