ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- Five men pleaded guilty and were sentenced for illegally harvesting ginseng root along the Blue Ridge Parkway, according to the chief ranger.
Blue Ridge Parkway Chief Ranger Steve Stinnett and U.S. attorney Anne Tompkins announced the guilty pleas and sentences on Friday.
American ginseng is an endangered species. Experts say national park and U.S. Forest Service lands have been severely affected by ginseng poachers in Western North Carolina.
Tompkins said, "The illegal harvesting of American ginseng is a serious problem in National Park Service lands. We are thankful to park rangers for their dedication and commitment to protecting this precious finite resource, and we will continue to prosecute those who illegally harvest this endangered plant."
Permits to collect ginseng root in national forests are issued from Sept. 1 to Sept. 30, but harvesting is never allowed in National Park Service lands such as the Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where even the possession of American ginseng is prohibited.
The men pleaded guilty to ginseng poaching in separate cases:
Codie Jackson Dodd, 23, of Asheville, N.C., possessed 34 ginseng roots. He was sentenced to 10 days in jail and ordered to pay a $600 fine.
Ronnie Eugene Penland, 54, of Asheville, N.C., possessed 18 ginseng roots. He was sentenced to 17 days in jail.
Brian Keith Witherel, 42, of Fletcher, N.C., possessed 21 ginseng roots. He was sentenced to 11 days in jail.
Gregory Grycki, 57, of Asheville, N.C., possessed 79 ginseng roots. He was sentenced to 25 days in jail.
Michael L. Hale, 22, of Johnson City, Tenn., possessed 80 ginseng roots. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail.
In all cases, the recovered ginseng roots were replanted by staff
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