Crime & Courts

2 poachers sentenced over illegally harvesting ginseng roots

This is a story about two guys who got lost in the woods and eventually landed in jail because of what they were carrying – 3 pounds of freshly dug ginseng.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced the jail time for the pair of poachers on Thursday.

Daniel Mizell, 26, of Green Mountain, was sentenced Thursday to 30 days in jail for engaging in business operations on the Blue Ridge Parkway and entering a closed area on the parkway during the government shutdown in October 2013.

Co-defendant Derek Vann Whitson, 33, of Mars Hill, was sentenced on March 27 to 90 days in jail for conspiring to harvest ginseng, Anne Tompkins, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina, said in a statement.

Ginseng, a cornerstone of herbal medicine, has long been used for a host of ailments by people who dry the root and chew it or use it to make tea.

American ginseng is on the list of the Convention on International Trade and Endangered Species, and people need a permit from the government to collect ginseng roots in national forests. Permits are not available in national park lands like the Blue Ridge Parkway.

American ginseng used to be abundant throughout the Eastern U.S. mountains. But repeated poaching has severely reduced the plant’s population, Tompkins said in February while discussing another poaching case.

Tompkins, citing court documents and statements in court, detailed what happened in the most recent case:

On Oct. 13, 2013, Whitson and Mizell called 911 after they became lost in the Asheville Watershed bordering the parkway. About 35 people from local, state and federal agencies assisted in the search.

They were found the next day with 147 roots of freshly dug ginseng. Whitson admitted to owning 2 pounds of the roots and said Mizell dug out the other pound, Tompkins said.