Ginseng in good shape

Ginseng in good shape

Fish and Wildlife Service issues CITES non-detriment finding for 2013 harvest of wild and wild-simulated American ginseng.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) issued its non-detriment finding on Sept. 5 for the 2013 harvest of wild and wild-simulated American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) in 19 states and the Menominee Indian Tribe in Wisconsin.

The Menominee Tribe applied for and was approved by the Service for a ginseng export program in 2012.

"Based on the information presented," the FWS finding states, "We find that the export of wild and wild-simulated roots legally harvested during the 2013 harvest season...will not be detrimental to the survival of the species." However, FWS notes that the harvest will not be detrimental only if roots for export are at least five years old (i.e., four or more stem scars present on the rhizome).

The non-detriment finding is based on FWS's review of annual State and Tribe harvest reports and information from state and federal agencies, industry, scientific and commercial information and indirect information about the status and trade of the species.

American ginseng is included on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which lists species that are not necessarily threatened with extinction now, but may become threatened unless trade is "subject to strict regulation." In producing this report, FWS complied with its responsibility under CITES and the finding concludes that export of wild and wild-simulated American ginseng from 19 specified range states is not detrimental to the survival of the species, as long as harvested plants are at least five years old. Thus, the agency will continue its current policy of allowing export of ginseng roots collected from the specified states.

The U.S. CITES Annual Report states that 45,351 pounds of wild and wild-simulated ginseng roots were legally exported from the U.S. in 2012. A total of 55,097 dried pounds of wild and wild-simulated roots were harvested during the 2012 season—roughly 13 million plants, according to FWS's review of annual state ginseng reports. This was a 6 percent decline from the 2011 harvest. Many states reported that the 2012 drought impacted the availability of ginseng.

There is no national population estimate for ginseng, but a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) two-year survey (2007 to 2009) found ginseng in 155 (69.2 percent) of the 224 sites surveyed.

Changes for 2013

\Since the 2012 harvest, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Virginia have delayed the start of the harvest season to Sept. 1. Vermont is now the only state with an earlier harvest start date, but it is currently working to amend its regulations to align the start of its harvest with the other 18 states.

Virginia is now prohibiting the harvest of ginseng plants that are not at least five-years-old and requiring harvesters to plant the seeds of harvested plants at the harvest site. Maryland is now prohibiting harvest on all state lands.

The National Forest in Kentucky reduced the length of the harvest season from four to two weeks and is only issuing 60 harvest permits. National Forests in Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee are also reducing the number of harvest permits, the amount that can be harvested and the length of the harvest season.

"These changes will help ensure the sustainability of ginseng," FWS states in the non-detriment finding.

Ensuring sustainability

FWS reports that Forest Service and National Park Service officials have increased enforcement efforts to curtail illegal harvesting. Officials have increased marking of wild ginseng roots with permanent markers like colored dyes to detect illegally harvested roots. 

FWS also identifies a number of future actions "to continue to minimize the impact of harvest of ginseng for international trade." These actions include:

  • Supporting efforts in Vermont to delay the start of the harvest season until Sept. 1 for the 2014 season
  • Exploring strategies to reduce illegal harvesting
  • Investigating seed collection and the establishment of regional seed banks
  • Exploring the implementation of a standard to convert wet root weight to dry root weight
  • Investigating how wild-simulated roots can be reported separately from wild roots in annual reports so that the impact of harvests on wild populations and the status of the species can better be assessed

"The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) has been in active communication with several of the individual states to encourage the establishment of good stewardship harvest practices for wild American ginseng," said Michael McGuffin, AHPA president.

Specifically, in 2010, AHPA sent letters to the appropriate agencies in Georgia, Kentucky, and Virginia in support of new state rules to require harvesters of wild ginseng to harvest only plants that have ripe (red) berries. AHPA believes that the adoption of this harvest requirement, in addition to those already in place in each state, would create better regulatory consistency throughout the wild ginseng harvest range, and would protect the continued harvest of wild ginseng.

Additionally, AHPA worked cooperatively with FWS, United Plant Savers and the Ohio-based Roots of Appalachia Growers Association in 2006 to create free brochures for each of the 19 ginseng-range states to provide information on state regulations and input on best harvest practices. The brochures, "Good Stewardship Harvesting of Wild American Ginseng" are available for download on the AHPA website at no charge.


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