Forget Sasquatch: Ginseng poachers pose greater threat

By KAREN PARKER | County Line Editor

My guess is it wasn’t just a typical day when the Vernon County Sheriff’s Department received a call that Sasquatch had been sighted in the town of Stark. Certainly not an everyday occurrence, the report probably provided the cop shop with an amusing distraction from the usual run of car/deer accidents. The media, bored silly with another presidential election cycle, lifted their weary heads and put the story on the front page, squeezing it in somewhere between the cougar sightings and the bear encounters.

Of course, Bigfoot sightings have been around for a long time, and, in fact, every continent except Antarctica has reported them. But no evidence supports their existence, at least not in this country. Of all the bones we have dug up, not one in North America resembles that of a large ape. Moreover, it would take quite a few of these creatures to sustain a breeding herd; consequently, verifiable sightings should be plentiful. Finally, they are usually seen in climates such as ours, and scientists doubt they could survive winters.

Perhaps distressed over the linking of a nonexistent creature with the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, KVR Executive Director Marcy West sent me a link to a website maintained by Wisconsin game wardens (http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/wardenwire/). The page was on the subject of ginseng. I thought maybe she was trying to tell me that Sasquatches are raiding ginseng beds.

But, no, on closer examination, it was an article about a phenomenon far more sinister than Bigfoot. It appeared that West was telling me that instead of wasting ink on Bigfoot, we might devoted some space to those prowling the countryside, trespassing on private property and swiping wild ginseng.

Wild ginseng is a reputed cure for everything from cancer to impotence, but like trying to prove Sasquatch’s existence, scientific evidence is in short supply for the medical claims associated with ginseng. That doesn’t stop markets from paying upward of $500 to $1,000 a pound for the stuff.

It’s not surprising, then, that wild ginseng is becoming increasingly rare, and some even believe it is perilously close to being endangered. It takes years for a plant to reach maturity, and what we have in southwestern Wisconsin is being harvested faster than it can grow. Poachers are literally yanking the plant from the ground, destroying any chance of the plant’s long-term survival. Ethical hunters dig only mature plants, often leaving behind some of the root. State law requires that the berries be planted at the site of the digging.

Yes, Wisconsin has a hunting season, and it started Sept. 1. Licenses are $15.75 apiece for Wisconsin residents. Hunting is not allowed on state-owned property, and hunters are expected to obtain permission from landowners before venturing onto private properties.

Sadly for the thieves, many people have trail cams these days, and instead of taping cougars and wolves, they are finding people skulking about on their properties, illegally harvesting ginseng.

Conservation warden Cory Adams knew of one farmer who had been dutifully watching his ginseng patch for 15 years – only to find it one morning cleaned out by trespassers who left nothing in their wake.

“If you see people on your land or a car parked in a place near your land and you have no idea what the people are doing, ginseng theft could be a potential reason,” according to warden Tony Young.

The wardens say the best course of action when you spot something unusual or see a stranger on your land who could be harvesting wild ginseng illegally is to call your local warden or call the DNR Violation Hotline at 1-800-847-9367. It is staffed 24 hours, seven days a week. Callers may remain anonymous.

And it is certainly of double importance to call if you spot Sasquatch harvesting ginseng.

I can imagine that life as a game warden must be rather interesting. The same week Sasquatch was ambling around the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, three anglers were nabbed on the Sugar River with multiple illegally size northern pike and numerous clams. Oops – Wisconsin has no clamming season. That little guy used to be abundant until “pearl fever” hit the state and clams were harvested by the millions.

When wardens aren’t doing battle on behalf of Wisconsin fish and wildlife, they evidently are occupied rescuing thrill-seekers, fetching drowned bodies from lake bottoms and wrecking drunken boaters’ fun.

Just to prove they are not all business, the wardens also list a few recipes on their website. If you ever wondered why we have a season on doves, then consider this recipe for dove poppers.

“It’s a great one to use when the dove season opens every year on Sept. 1. Keep in mind that the Wisconsin daily bag limit for doves is 15.

Here’s what you do:

You will need dove breasts filleted from the breastbone. About four per person should do it.

Next, gather chunks of pineapple, green chili or green bell pepper or jalapeno pepper, and mushrooms. When it comes to the mushrooms, the canned version will work. I am partial to the button kind.

You’ll need some teriyaki sauce, or whatever type of marinade you prefer.

Get some bacon strips and cut those in half.

Now, you’ll need your kabob skewers. You’ll need to wrap your dove breasts with the bacon strips and secure them with toothpicks before you assemble the skewers. Place the peppers, pineapple and mushrooms (veggies and fruit are chunked) between the dove breasts. Put the skewers on a plate and baste them with the teriyaki sauce.

Place the skewers on your grill. The heat should be about low to medium. Turn the skewers every five minutes. Cook until the bacon is done.

I’ll probably skip the poppers, but I was thinking about calling the Vernon County Sheriff’s Department to report that I saw leprechauns under my front porch this morning.

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