Wild American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), the root of which has a variety of uses in traditional medicine including stress, cognitive function and immune system boosting, takes between four and five years to reach maturity and start producing seeds. The life span of a plant is around 30 years and it becomes more fruitful with age.
Since 1975 the plant has been listed under the Convention in International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) as species that, while not being in immediate danger of extinction, may become extinct if trade is not strictly controlled.
In its 2005 CITES finding published last August, the FWS determined that wild roots must be at least ten years old (double the previous minimum age of five years) and have four 'prongs' or leaves before they can be legally exported from the US.
This decision met with dismay from the botanicals industry, not least because it was made behind closed doors.
But the agency subsequently held four well-attended public meetings, which elicited comments from the spectrum of those involved with the wild ginseng trade.
Michael McGuffin, president of the American Herbal Products Association, also said: "Our concerns with the 10-year rule were centered on errors in some of the calculations used by FWS, and on the absence of any meaningful consideration of the positive impact that can come from harvesters who are also acting as ginseng stewards by replanting mature seeds."
The newly announced decision to reinstate the 5-year minimum export rule for those states that have a ginseng program for at least the next three harvest seasons came after FWS concluded from the information gathered at the public meetings that the practice "will not be detrimental to the survival of the species".
It said that it had heard opinions that the meetings that increasing the exportable age of wild ginseng would increase result in greater harvest pressure on older plant, and undermine the transition to woodsland planting and management to replace harvesting of wild roots.
If new evidence to the contrary comes to light in the meantime, it does reserve the right to alter the regulation again, but pledges to do so in sufficient time before the 2007 or 2008 harvest so that stakeholders can be consulted and notified.
Around 19m wild plants were exported from the US each year until 2004, making up 7.3 percent of the overall ginseng exports.
The 2005 ruling meant that significantly less wild ginseng would be available for export in the next five years, to allow for plants that would previously have been cleared for harvesting to grow older and bridge the gap.
Ginseng exports from cultivated sources were excluded from the 2005 ruling, which also held that held that the position wood-grown or wild-simulated ginseng would have to be determined on a case-by-case basis.
In the update, however, FWS says it has determined that woodsgrown roots qualify as artificially propagated and are not covered by the same regulation as wild American ginseng.