5 charged in ginseng case


Staff Report

ATHENS – Five individuals were recently charged with ginseng related violations in Muskingum County, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR).

In early September, a caller provided information to the Turn-In-A-Poacher (TIP) hotline regarding possible ginseng violations in Muskingum County. The caller believed that several individuals may have been dropped off at Blue Rock State Forest. State Wildlife Officers Roby Williams and Bryan Postlethwait responded to the area and conducted surveillance. Eventually a female driver returned to the area. The officers were able to contact the driver and four male suspects who were walking out of the woods and getting into the vehicle. The officers interviewed the suspects, who admitted to digging ginseng on Blue Rock State Forest.

A total of 254 ginseng roots were discovered and seized from the suspects. On September 21, 2016 all five suspects appeared in the Muskingum County Court. All suspects were found guilty of digging ginseng on state property. The suspects paid a total of $2,850 in fines and court costs, were ordered to a total of 120 hours of community service and a total of 25 days in jail. All are on probation for one year and are prohibited from digging ginseng for two years.

Ginseng harvest season is from September 1st to December 31st annually. Diggers must keep accurate harvest records by county and collection date, and all ginseng must be certified by the ODNR Division of Wildlife before it is exported from Ohio. More information about ginseng in Ohio can be found in the publication Ohio’s Green GOLD and on wildohio.gov.

Anyone observing or suspecting that ginseng violations are occurring may report illegal activity by calling the Turn-In-A-Poacher (TIP) hotline toll free at 1-800-POACHER.

Defendants, charges, and sentences in the case are:

Brandon McNutt, 18, Chandlersville – convicted of digging ginseng on state property. Sentenced to five days in jail and ordered to pay $650 in fines and court costs. Placed on probation for one year and prohibited from digging ginseng for two years.

Russell A Stemm III, 19, Zanesville – convicted of digging ginseng on state property. Sentenced to five days in jail and ordered to pay $450 in fines and court costs. Placed on probation for one year, ordered to complete 60 hours of community service, and prohibited from digging ginseng for two years.

Michael Wickham, 20, New Lexington – convicted of digging ginseng on state property. Sentenced to five days in jail and ordered to pay $450 in fines and court costs. Placed on probation for one year, ordered to complete 60 hours of community service, and prohibited from digging ginseng for two years.

Jonathan L Clark, 26, Zanesville – convicted of digging ginseng on state property. Sentenced to five days in jail and ordered to pay $650 in fines and court costs. Placed on probation for one year and prohibited from digging ginseng for two years.

Tiffany A Clark, 25, Zanesville – convicted of digging ginseng on state property. Sentenced to five days in jail and ordered to pay $650 in fines and court costs. Placed on probation for one year and prohibited from digging ginseng for two years.

All ginseng seized was forfeited to the State of Ohio.

Field reports from ODNR Division of Wildlife officers

Central Ohio – Wildlife District One

While working at Hoover Reservoir, State Wildlife Officer Brad Kiger, assigned to Franklin County, observed two hydrobikes on the water. A male and female were riding on one of the hydrobikes, and the other was operated by a male. Officer Kiger observed two of the individuals fishing and noticed that none were wearing a personal floatation device (PFD). Further investigation revealed none of the individuals had a fishing license, and no PFDs were on the hydrobikes. Officer Kiger then discovered that the subjects had stolen the hydrobikes. The owner of the bikes was contacted and later met with Officer Kiger. The owner chose not to press charges for the theft. Officer Kiger issued one subject a citation for not wearing a PFD, a second subject received a citation for fishing without a license, and the third subject received a citation for no fishing license and no PFD. The two subjects fishing without a license each received a $128 fine, and the fine for not wearing a PFD was $188.

In early October State Wildlife Officer Josh Shields, assigned to Union County, received a complaint from the Union County Sheriff’s Office about several deer carcasses that had been dumped near the road. Officer Shields and State Wildlife Officer Adam Smith, assigned to Logan County, investigated the site and identified a suspect. Further investigation revealed the suspect dumped the deer along the road. He was convicted of littering and paid fines and costs of $160 in the Marysville Municipal Court.

During Ohio’s deer archery season, State Wildlife Officer Matt Teders, assigned to Madison County, noticed a deer had been checked in using an antler-less tag. For the 2016- 2017 season, the use of antler-less tags is limited to 10 counties and controlled hunts, and Madison County is not included on that list. Further investigation revealed that the hunter had a valid either-sex tag at the time the doe was harvested. Not wanting to use that tag, the hunter purchased an antler-less tag to check the deer. The hunter was issued a citation for using an antler-less tag in a closed county.

State Wildlife Officer John Coffman, assigned to Fayette County, contacted a fisherman at Deer Creek Lake. The man said he had caught a few saugeye. Further investigation revealed seven saugeye in the man’s cooler, one more than the legal limit. Officer Coffman then inspected the man’s fabric tackle box. Underneath all of the man’s tackle and gear was a small fabric cooler filled with ice and nine more saugeye. The man was issued a summons for exceeding the bag limit of saugeye and 10 fish were taken as evidence. The man was convicted in Circleville Municipal Court.

During the opening weekend of the 2016 dove hunting season, State Wildlife Officer Maurice Irish, assigned to Delaware County, was dispatched to Delaware Wildlife Area in response to a TIP. It was reported that a hunter had fired several shots at a flock of wood ducks and one had dropped into an overgrown field. Officer Irish responded to the location. Officer Irish checked the hunter for a valid hunting license, HIP survey, and verified that his shotgun was mechanically plugged. Further investigation revealed the man had shot at and killed a wood duck. Officer Irish was able to locate a freshly-killed wood duck in the field. The man was reminded to be sure of his target and beyond before pulling the trigger. The wood duck was seized as evidence and the man was cited into Delaware Municipal Court.

Northwest Ohio – Wildlife District Two

In June, State Wildlife Officer Matthew Leibengood discovered a large television had been dumped at Little Portage Wildlife Area in Ottawa County. The remote wildlife area is plagued with litter and vandalism issues. Advancements in surveillance technology have enabled state wildlife officers to protect these areas, even when cautious violators leave no trace under the cover of darkness. Officer Leibengood was able to track down two suspects. An investigation was completed and one man was issued a summons for the state property litter violation, a third-degree misdemeanor.

State Wildlife Officer Austin Dickinson, assigned to Seneca County, and State Wildlife Officer Kelsey Brockman, assigned to Erie County, were patrolling the Sandusky River in May as a part of a fishing enforcement effort. The officers observed four men using a cast net directly below the Ballville Dam. The officers watched as the four men used the cast net and filled up multiple coolers with unidentified fish. The officers contacted the men as they were leaving the river. Officers Dickinson and Brockman discovered several smallmouth bass and a channel catfish in the bottom of one of the coolers. Multiple summonses were issued for taking sport fish with a cast net, as well as one summons for possessing a smallmouth bass less than 12 inches in length.

Northeast Ohio – Wildlife District Three

State Wildlife Officer Brennan Earick, assigned to Ashland County, received a complaint regarding illegally set body-gripping traps. He responded to the area and located three traps set to capture groundhogs. The traps lacked the tag used to identify the owner and were not covered as required by law. Officer Earick learned the identity of a suspect during the course of the investigation. The results of the investigation revealed that the man did not have a hunting license and did not have permission to trap groundhogs on the property. The individual was ordered to appear in Ashland Municipal Court and charged with trapping without permission, trapping without a license, using traps without a trap tag, and using body-gripping traps with a jaw spread larger than 5 inches that were uncovered. The individual was convicted and sentenced to a 60-day suspended jail sentence. He received one year of hunting license revocation, one year of probation, and was ordered to pay $1,087 in fines and court costs.

While checking illegal bait sites during the spring wild turkey season, State Wildlife Officer Nick Turner, assigned to Harrison County, noticed a pop-up blind that was erected next to a feeder full of corn. Officer Turner announced his presence and contacted a married couple in the blind. Both subjects had shotguns and were hunting turkeys. Officer Turner seized both firearms and charged them with hunting turkeys over bait. They appeared in court and were convicted. They were ordered to pay a combined $880 in fines, court costs, and restitution. The judge also suspended the couple’s turkey hunting privileges for one year and sentenced them to a 20-day suspended jail term.

Southeast Ohio – Wildlife District Four

State Wildlife Officer Matt VanCleve, assigned to Pike County, was patrolling the Scioto River when he came upon five anglers. Officer VanCleve discovered that two of the five individuals did not have valid fishing licenses. The two individuals appeared in Pike County Court and were found guilty. They each paid $200 in fines.

In August, State Wildlife Investigator Travis Abele contacted two individuals digging golden seal, commonly referred to as yellow root, on Scioto Trail State Forest property. The investigator watched the two subjects for a period of time and made contact with them as they returned to their vehicle. Both were carrying a bag containing several pounds of yellow root. One of the diggers had also harvested ginseng. One man walked behind the vehicle to hide from the officer and attempted to discard the roots from his pockets. The two men were charged with illegally harvesting the plants from state property. Both men were found guilty in Chillicothe Municipal Court and received fines and costs totaling $420. The root and digging tools were forfeited to the state. It is legal to take berries, fruit, nuts, mushrooms, and naturally-shed deer antlers from state-owned properties. The harvesting of any plant, shrub, or tree is prohibited.

While on patrol in Scioto County, State Wildlife Officer Hollie Fluharty made contact with three anglers along the Scioto River. They had caught and released several large catfish during a successful night of fishing. All individuals had a valid fishing license and were happy to be contacted by law enforcement.


Staff Report

Information for this story was provided by ODNR.

Information for this story was provided by ODNR.