By Jesse Wood
The ‘poaching season’ for ginseng is in full swing until the legal harvest season opens on the first of September. Yesterday evening, the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office arrested two individuals and charged them with felony larceny of ginseng – in addition to resist, delay and obstructing an officer.
Spencer Dwayne Church, 34, of Boone, and Brian Christopher Smith, 45 ,of Mountain City, Tenn., were given a secured bond of $10,000 with a court date for Sept. 6. The two were arrested after the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office received a call about potential poaching after two suspicious individuals wearing camouflage were seen entering a wooded area near Boone. When deputies spotted the individuals, a short foot chase ensued before Church and Smith were apprehended and identified.
“Watauga County Sheriff’s Office along with the District Attorney’s Office has successfully prosecuted these type cases in the past and will continue to be vigilant to protect the hard work of Watauga County citizens who continue the mountain art of growing and cultivating ginseng,” according to a release approved by Sheriff Len Hagaman.
Watauga County Extension Director Jim Hamilton said the arrest of ginseng poachers is encouraging. In 2014, a Boone man became the first person to receive a felony for poaching ginseng on private property. Since then others have been arrested, too.
The Watauga County Sheriff’s Office was the leading agency in that first arrest, which came one month after law enforcement and agricultural officials met to discuss poaching and its effects on the local economy. In the past few years, thousands of pounds of ginseng have been planted in Watauga County. Ginseng takes more than seven years to mature and is worth several hundred dollars per pound dry.
“It’s very encouraging that our county law enforcement community is proactively addressing ginseng theft,” Hamilton said. “We’ve had a renaissance in ginseng production and interest here in the county, and for a crop like ginseng that is tricky to grow successfully anyway, anything we can do to reduce theft pressure can help grow our burgeoning ginseng industry. I really appreciate the efforts of the Sheriff’s office to put some teeth into the laws regarding this crop.”