Wild American ginseng is one of many plant and animal species protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora of 1973 (CITES), an international trade agreement which the United States and 134 other nations have signed. The objective of the Convention is to monitor, control, and restrict, as necessary, the international trade of certain wild plant and animal species to prevent adverse impacts to their populations and to insure the continued existence of those species in their natural habitat.
In the United States, the Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has been delegated the U.S. CITES scientific and management authority since the treaty went into effect in 1975. Before a CITES export permit can be issued, the USFWS must determine whether the ginseng roots were legally acquired and whether further exports will be detrimental to the species' survival. The Office of Management Authority (OMA) determines whether the ginseng was legally acquired, and the Office of Scientific Authority (OSA) determines whether export of ginseng roots is detrimental to the species' survival.
The USFWS has established a joint ginseng management program with the states in order to monitor and regulate ginseng harvest and commerce, and meet the CITES requirements. The states must establish regulations that ensure ginseng populations under their jurisdiction will not be harmed by harvest. The Tennessee ginseng program was approved in 1978. Ginseng dealers must register with each state in which they purchase and sell ginseng roots and must report their transactions to the states. The states must inspect, weigh and certify that the ginseng was legally harvested within the state of origin. The states then compile the dealers' reports and other information on ginseng biology, harvest, regulation and commerce into an annual report that is sent to USFWS. These annual reports are used by OMA and OSA to evaluate the state ginseng management programs, harvest levels, and impacts of harvest on wild ginseng populations in order to determine whether the states should be approved for ginseng export ("non-detriment" finding). Without the annual approval of the USFWS a ban will be placed on the export of wild ginseng from Tennesee.
CITES does not require a "non-detriment" finding for cultivated ginseng, but the cultivated ginseng stock must be established in a manner not detrimental to the species' survival in the wild. "Woodsgrown" ginseng is considered "Cultivated" ginseng and should never be reported as "Wild" ginseng.
Once ginseng is approved by USFWS for export, each shipment is inspected and approved by a port inspector of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Division of Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ), a division of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). If all the USFWS and CITES requirements are met, the port inspector will validate the CITES export documents and approve the shipment for export.
No ginseng can be harvested on State or Federal land without written permission of the land management agency. Ginseng harvesting is not permitted in State Parks, State Forests, or State Wildlife Management Areas (WMA), except Royal Blue WMA. Ginseng harvesting is not permitted in National Parks, such as Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Annual permits for harvesting ginseng in Cherokee National Forest may be obtained for a small fee at the District Ranger offices.