114  Operation “Root of All Evil” with Kirk Kiefer – Ohio

Kirk Kiefer has been a wildlife investigator with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for the past 15 years. In this episode, he walks us through Operation “Root of All Evil,” a lengthy and complex investigation into the illegal ginseng trade that spanned multiple states, included unmarked vehicles, extended surveillance, buys and sales by undercover officers, and even a fake business.

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Here’s what we discuss:

  • Wild ginseng root is highly valued for its perceived medicinal properties
  • Grows very slowly, taking up to five years to reach maturity
  • One pound can be worth up to $1000
  • Seeds take over a year to germinate
  • Information campaign helped educate stakeholders on the damage caused by poaching
  • Many poachers are involved in other illegal activities
  • Legal ginseng plants must have three leaf sets, or ‘prongs’
  • Case also had multiple prongs
  • Prong 1: Undercover officers sold ginseng to licensed dealers
  • Compared the amount sold to the amount reported
  • Officers then sold ginseng outside the buying season to confirm illegal intent
  • Prong 2: Coordinated with US Fish & Wildlife Service to create a fake business
  • Business would receive inquiries from those looking to buy and sell illegal product
  • Prong 3: Obtain offenders’ assistance in exchange for a reduced penalty
  • Task force worked in multiple states
  • One offender had been featured on a popular reality show
  • The television show actually helped educate the public about ginseng poaching
  • Many countries overseas have decimated indigenous flora and fauna, creating a black market
  • 110 defendants received multiple charges
  • Nearly six years of jail time served, $77,000 in fines
  • Kirk’s background; jack of all trades
  • Trapping academy
  • State officers were made aware of the ginseng operation
  • “Giving a little bit, we received a lot.”
  • Not all states have Wildlife Investigators
  • State of Ohio has done some major operations
  • Ginseng awareness for stakeholders training began in 2015
  • Operation takedown day finally arrived in 2022


Hosts: Wayne Saunders and John Nores

Producer: Jay Ammann

Art & Design: Ashley Hannett

Research / Content Coordinator: Stacey DesRoches


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