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Forest Service won't issue ginseng permits this year

Because of declines in the levels of the plant, the U.S. Forest Service won't issue permits for ginseng harvest this year.

Commercial harvesting of ginseng has occurred for 250 years. The Forest Service attributed the declining population of the valuable herb to long-term harvesting, overharvesting, out-of-season harvesting and taking of mature plants without planting seeds for replacement crops. The number of plants in the forest now is too low to be sustainably harvested.

"Every year we've seen fewer ginseng plants and the danger is that they'll complete disappear from this area," Gary Kauffman, botanist for the National Forests of North Carolina, said in a news release. "We need to pause the harvest now to help ensure that these plants will be available in future years for our grandkids and their kids."

Anyone harvesting wild ginseng plants or its part on national forest land without a permit may be fined $5,000 or sent to federal prison for six months, the Forest Service said.