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Poaching pioneers

Heath Hamacher//July 27, 2016

Poaching pioneers

Heath Hamacher//July 27, 2016

In his mugshot, 23-year-old Paul Simmons Jr. of North Carolina looks reasonably intimidating, to the extent that one can be intimidated by a photograph.

This is a good thing for “PJ,” as prison records list him, since he is headed back to the big house for at least a six-month stretch; maybe longer.

Of course, his tough-guy image might take a major hit when his fellow felons realize what he’s in for: Simmons, along with his father and two other yardbirds, was caught poaching protected plants from public game lands. The four men made national headlines as the first people charged with a felony for stealing Venus flytraps.

According to the Associated Press, “Simmons was caught by a wildlife officer with 970 plants in his vehicle in January 2015 at the Holly Shelter Game Land in Hampstead.”

Of course what the AP meant is that Simmons, not the officer, had nearly 1,000 Venus flytraps in his car (where?!) when he was busted.

Flytraps are native to boggy areas exclusively in southeast North Carolina and northeast South Carolina and have a dwindling natural habitat that has led to a reduced population. What used to be a slap on the wrist became a serious crime in December 2014 when lawmakers decided that stealing flytraps from the wild should be punished more harshly.

It’s unclear what Simmons and Co. intended to do with the carnivorous plants, but a brochure distributed by The Nature Conservancy says that “if you see someone selling flytraps at a flea market, on the roadside or over the internet, there is a good chance that they are stolen.”

So, black market flytraps alongside bootleg CDs and knockoff ball caps? Who knew?

In any event, the jury and judge have spoken, and Simmons will have a half-year to year-and-a-half to twiddle his green thumbs and think about this one.

Maybe the institution where he ends up doing his time will have a horticulture program.



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