The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Money

October 6, 2005

Ginseng growers, diggers say laws are undermining industry

Alvin Reed says if he had to follow current state and federal regulations when harvesting ginseng he would have retired from the job long ago.

“Most either don’t understand the new laws or don’t agree with them,” said Reed, who is now over 70 years old and has stopped climbing the hills and mountains in search of the valuable root. “You would think they would make laws that would help the ginseng industry, not ones that hurt it.”

Officials with the West Virginia Division of Forestry say ginseng harvesters need to be aware of new federal and state laws that took effect Sept. 1.

Ed Murriner, assistant forester for the Division of Forestry, said his office has continued to get calls from people wanting information about the new laws.

Revisions to West Virginia’s ginseng law moved the traditional start date for the ginseng digging to Sept. 1, and running through Nov. 30.

By law, anyone digging ginseng is required to replant the seeds from the parent plant in the spot where it was harvested.

Legally, only ginseng plants that are 5 years old or older may be dug. The age of the plant is determined by the number of prongs.

“Only plants with three or more prongs are considered old enough to harvest,” Murriner added.

Murriner said plants at least 5 years old are capable of producing fertile berries. The berries must be red, an indicator they are mature.

“Younger plants have smaller roots and have little or no financial value,” he said.

Murriner said other calls he has received are complaints about a recent federal determination regarding exportation of ginseng.

“Beginning with the 2005 harvest season, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will issue export permits only for wild ginseng roots that are at least 10 years old,” he explained. “Some harvesters don’t like this.”

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