FWS Extends Harvest Age on Wild American Ginseng to 10 Years

(Silver Spring, MD) The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced yesterday that it has issued its 2005 CITES finding on the export of wild American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) root and has determined that the minimum age for legal export will be extended from 5 years to 10 years. FWS will also require that exportable plants be limited to those that bear not less than four leaves, rather than the current minimum of three.

The decision by FWS was based on a number of factors described in their announcement as “the best available biological information on the status of the species.” The primary factors appear to have been related to assuring sufficient reproductive years, as seed production in wild ginseng does not occur until its fourth year of life. Also cited were concerns about illegal harvests, damage from deer browsing, and insufficient state rules such that restrictions on harvest prior to seed viability are not consistent throughout the plant's habitat.

Most states now require plants to be at least 5 years old or to bear three leaves (called “prongs”), since those plants are able to produce seed. Some states, however, allow harvest as early as August and there are significant questions about the ability of immature seeds from plants harvested at that time to germinate.

“We now have a situation where wild ginseng that can be legally collected at 5 years old throughout its range will not be able to be sold to its primary market, which is in Asia,” said Tony Hayes, of AHPA member Ridge Runner Trading Company. “It is unfortunate that a decision of this importance has to happen behind closed doors, as the cart has gotten before the horse, at least for the 2005 harvest.”

In issuing its annual finding, FWS stated that it does not affect the export of cultivated American ginseng, which will continue to be able to be exported without any age restrictions and with the currently required CITES certification. FWS also stated that it would address requests for exports of “wild-simulated” and “woodsgrown” ginseng that is less than 10 years of age on a case-by-case basis “if applicants are able to document the origin [of] their roots (including source of seed or transplants).”

American ginseng was listed in 1975 on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Species listed on Appendix II are not necessarily considered to be threatened with extinction but may become so unless trade is subject to appropriate regulation. In order for Appendix II-listed species to enter into international trade, a determination must be made by the “scientific authority” in the country of origin that any harvest is both legally obtained and is not detrimental to the survival of the species. The Division of Scientific Authority at FWS serves in this role for the United States.

FWS established the 5-year-old minimum age for harvest rule in 1999 and at that time cited concern about steady declines in harvests throughout much of American ginseng's range. Ironically, one of the factor's cited in yesterday’s decision was that harvests have increased over the past six years.

“I know that many AHPA members empathize with the biologists at FWS and want to be sure that wild ginseng is harvested in a sustainable manner,” commented AHPA President Michael McGuffin. “But it must be acknowledged that the current system does not allow our input in the decision-making process, which makes it very difficult to make good business plans if wild ginseng is important to your company.”

FWS’ 2005 CITES finding on wild American ginseng can be found at http://www.ahpa.org/05_0803_2005.GinsengFinding.pdf. The accompanying Species Review can be found at http://www.ahpa.org/05_0803_2005.GinsengSpeciesReview_Annex1.pdf.


The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) is the national trade association and voice of the herbal supplement industry, the only trade association devoted solely to herbal issues. AHPA is the recognized leader in representing the responsible center of the botanical trade, and is comprised of the finest growers, processors, manufacturers and marketers of herbal products. AHPA’s mission is to promote the responsible commerce of herbal products. AHPA committees generate self-regulations to ensure the highest level of responsibility with respect to the way herbs are manufactured, labeled and sold. Website: www.ahpa.org

Karen Robin, Director of Communications
Telephone: (301) 588-1171, x-107

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