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Two northeast Iowa men pleaded guilty to illegal taking of wild ginseng on state managed land after they were encountered by a state conservation officer in the late afternoon on Sept. 11, 2020.
Iowa Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer Dakota Drish encountered Gregg Latham, 58, of Oelwein, who was in his vehicle and serving as the driver and lookout for Dustin Millard, 49, of Strawberry Point, who was in the nearby timber, illegally scratching and digging wild ginseng roots.
Millard exited the timber and, after learning of Latham’s encounter with the officer, decided to leave the ginseng roots behind, hidden to be retrieved later. However, the Iowa DNR found it first. The investigation led offers to search Millard’s and Latham’s residences where interviews were conducted and evidence photographed.
The result was Millard being charged with 112 counts of unlawfully harvesting wild ginseng plants from state managed lands, 112 counts of harvesting wild ginseng without retaining the entire plant, one count of theft in the fifth degree, one count of littering and one count of trespassing.
Latham was charged with aiding and abetting 112 counts of unlawfully harvesting wild ginseng plants from state managed lands, 112 counts of harvesting wild ginseng without retaining the entire plant, one count of theft in the fifth degree, one count of littering and one count of trespassing.
The current market value of wild ginseng was $500 to $550 per dried pound. The state requested 150 percent of the current market value, or $750 per dried pound, for reimbursement for the value of the dried ginseng root. After weighing the dried ginseng roots, the state sought $515.62 in gross reimbursement and requested that each individual reimburses the State half of the total amount of the current market value, which is $257.81.
Millard and Latham each pleaded guilty to 24 ginseng violations ($5,046), one theft violation ($237), one first offense trespass violation ($354), and one littering violation (106.75), totaling $5,743.75 in criminal penalties. The Court also found the men liable for reimbursing the State of Iowa $257.81 each for their portion of the stolen wild ginseng.
Wild ginseng falls under the Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which is an international agreement between governments, that’s aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. Its popularity in Asian countries has essentially led to its extirpation there.
Ginseng harvest is regulated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. At no point can a person possess a wild ginseng plant, seed or any part of a wild ginseng plant on state owned or managed areas. The State of Iowa is required to highly regulate the plant. More information on ginseng is available online at https://www.iowadnr.gov/About-DNR/About-DNR/Iowa-DNR-Forms-Permits under Ginseng Growers, Harvesters & Dealers drop down.