By Jesse Wood
This past weekend, the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office arrested Eric Moretz, 27, of 1351 Brownwood Road in Deep Gap, for poaching ginseng in a wooded area near Blowing Rock and charged him with a felony for poaching ginseng.
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.
According to an incident report, Watauga County Sheriff’s Office responded to a call of a “suspicious person” walking out of the woods near Niley Cook Road with a machete on Sept. 12 at about 1:45 p.m.
Deputies walked along the trails and found Moretz, who eventually admitted to poaching ginseng. He possessed four ginseng roots at the time of the arrest. Prior to poaching the ginseng, the property caretaker had personally warned Moretz to stay off the property, according to the call log.
The arrests comes days after 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.
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.