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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Western District of North Carolina

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, May 22, 2014

Two Poachers Receive Jail Time For Illegally Harvesting 147 Ginseng Roots

United States Attorney Anne M. Tompkins Western District Of North Carolina

ASHEVILLE, N.C. - U.S. Attorney Anne M. Tompkins announced that two men have been convicted and sentenced in U.S. District Court for the illegal harvesting of ginseng. Joining U.S. Attorney Tompkins in making today’s announcement is Deborah Flowers, Acting Chief Ranger of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Daniel Mizell, 26, of Green Mountain, N.C. was sentenced today to serve 30 days in jail for engaging in business operations on the Blue Ridge Parkway and entering a closed area on the Blue Ridge Parkway during the federal government shutdown in October 2013. His co-defendant, Derek Vann Whitson, 33, of Mars Hill, N.C. was sentenced on March 27, 2014, to 90 days in jail for conspiring to harvest ginseng.

According to court documents and statements made in court:

On October 13, 2013, Whitson and Mizell called 9-1-1 for assistance after they became lost in the Asheville Watershed which borders the Blue Ridge Parkway. During the course of a search and rescue mission, approximately 35 individuals from various local, state and federal agencies responded to assist in finding the two missing men. On October 14, 2013, Asheville Watershed employees located Whitson and Mizell, who were found to be in possession of three pounds of freshly dug ginseng (147 roots). Whitson admitted ownership of two pounds of ginseng roots and stated Mizell dug the other one pound. Mizell and Whitson also admitted to entering the Watershed from the Parkway. At sentencing, U. S. Magistrate Judge Dennis L. Howell took particular note of the amount of public resources used during the search to locate two individuals, who became lost while engaged in criminal activity for personal profit.

American ginseng is on the list of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES). The Division of Scientific Authority, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is the regulatory agency that evaluates the biological and management status of wild American ginseng throughout its native range. The Division issues an annual or biennial report detailing if any harvest conditions need to be modified to ensure the sustainable harvest of wild native ginseng.

National Park, U.S. Forest Service and Asheville Watershed lands have been severely impacted by ginseng poachers in Western North Carolina. Permits to collect ginseng root in National Forests are issued annually through the U.S. Forest Service from September 1 to September 15. Permits are not available in National Park lands such as the Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park where even the possession of American ginseng is prohibited. Permits to collect ginseng roots are also unavailable for the Asheville Watershed and that area is closed to entry by the public.

The investigation of the cases was handled by the rangers of the Blue Ridge Parkway and officers and employees of the City Of Asheville. The prosecution was handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Asheville.

Updated March 19, 2015