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WKU Graduate Peppers Keeps Busy at Mammoth Cave Preventing Ginseng and Wildlife Poaching

National Park Service

The chief law enforcement officer at Mammoth Cave National Park says one of her top challenges is keeping ginseng-poachers out of the area.

The plant’s root is highly prized for its alleged medicinal benefits, and Mammoth Cave Chief Ranger Lora Peppers says wild-grown ginseng can command high prices on the black market--especially in certain Asian countries.

“Digging ginseng in the park is obviously not allowed, but a lot of people are looking for that wild-grown ginseng. The ginseng that you find in some farms is not valued as highly as native ginseng.”

Peppers, an Edmonson County native and WKU graduate, says park employees have scoured the area to find ginseng and mark plants found within the park’s boundaries. Those markings make it much easier to prosecute poachers who sell illegally-harvested ginseng taken from the Mammoth Cave area.

“We mark the roots. We’ve gone out into the (ginseng) colonies, and we identify and mark them. So it’s easier for us to know if someone shows up at a dealer to sell ginseng, it’s pretty obvious if it came from the park.”

Peppers says many of the ginseng poachers who are caught and prosecuted were selling the plant in order to get money to buy illegal drugs. In addition to dealing with those harvesting ginseng, Peppers says deer and turkey poachers are another area of concern.

It’s illegal to hunt animals at Mammoth Cave National park. However, Peppers says visitors can fish in the park’s waterways, and collect berries and certain mushrooms.

Kevin is the News Director at WKU Public Radio. He has been with the station since 1999, and was previously the Assistant News Director, and also served as local host of Morning Edition.
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