Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Poacher's root of choice - wild ginseng

The global illegal wildlife trade, which includes flora and fauna, is estimated at $12-30 billion annually.The stakeout in the remote area of Ontario was coming to a conclusion. As the 2 poachers emerged from the bush they were immediately arrested. What were they stealing? Wild ginseng, which is protected in Canada, and cannot be touched. The two men pleaded guilty to picking ginseng. They received fines of $5,000 and $4,000 as well as four-month suspended sentences.
Natural American ginseng is rare and rapidly going extinct. Poaching poses the greatest threat. Natural ginseng can sell for anywhere from several hundred to thousands of dollars per root depending on its shape and size. A single root the size of an adult finger can fetch $1,000.

The plant is slow to mature and reproduce and requires specific growing conditions. It takes a decade for a sizable root to form. Cultivated ginseng requires herbicides and is seen as inferior in quality and taste.

Worse, there is something called 'replant disease', meaning cultivated ginseng cannot ever be planted on the same ground twice.
Wild American ginseng grows in southern Ontario and western Quebec, and down to Georgia and Louisiana. French settlers exported it in bulk to China 300 years ago. At one point it was New France's biggest export after fur.

That early over-harvesting kicked off a decline that has accelerated to the point where less than two dozen viable populations of wild American ginseng are left in Canada. Most of those are now monitored continuously in efforts to prevent extinction.