By Jesse Wood
A Deep Gap man who was arrested about a week ago for poaching ginseng on private property was back at it again on last night.
Officers found Eric Moretz, 27, of Deep Gap, and Marshel Lawrence, 33, in a wooded area near Dell Coffey Road and Roby Green Road in the dark, equipped with head lamps and long knives and in possession of ginseng roots, according to an incident report from the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office.
Deputies responded to the area after received a phone call from a Dell Coffey Road residence about suspicious four wheelers and motorcycles frequenting the property and staying for hours in the evening. The caller, according to the report, was concerned people were poaching ginseng or making moonshine.
Deputies found a fourwheeler in the woods and eventually made contact with Moretz, who was arrested on Sept. 12 near Blowing Rock poaching ginseng, and Lawrence.
“Deputies then discovered the males had been poaching ginseng and found them in possession of numerous roots. The males claimed to be digging on family property, but also admitted to digging on property that did not belong to family,” an incident report reads.
The males didn’t have permission from the property owners to go ‘sangin.
Moretz and Lawrence were arrested and given $10,000 secure bond.
This comes several months to a year after the agricultural community applauded the first-ever felony conviction for poaching ginseng on private property in North Carolina and two weeks after local agricultural leaders met with the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office personnel.
In the past, felony convictions have been handed out in North Carolina for poaching ginseng in national forests or state park land but never for private property. That all seemed to change after the local district attorney and personnel with the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office met with agricultural leaders.
Two weeks ago, Watauga County Extension Director Jim Hamilton and N.C. Department of Agriculture Plant Conservation Program Administrator David Welch met with about dozen individuals with the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office to present info about the economic impact of ginseng in the county, to let them know about potential charges and to answer any questions officers might have about ginseng.
Lead by Travis Cornett of High Country Ginseng, more than 2,000 pounds of ginseng seeds have been planted in Watauga County in the past two years. Hamilton noted that about one pound of seed is equal to about 6,000 seeds.
“We have some serious economic potential in the county,” Hamilton said when Moretz was arrested the first time.
In December 2014, Judge Gary Gavenus convicted David E. Presnell of Boone of poaching plants property maintained by High Country Ginseng. When Presnell was caught poaching in the fall of 2013, ginseng was fetching up to $1,200 per pound.
Presnell’s conviction occurred one month after Hamilton and others in the local agricultural community met with District Attorney Seth Banks in the fall of 2014 to let Banks know about the economic impact of all the ginseng seeds that are going into the ground.
“The more convictions, the more the word goes out that Watauga County doesn’t tolerate poaching. It’s great for commercial guys to put some fear into the poachers who are clearing out [ginseng],” Hamilton said after receiving information about the most recent arrest.