Virginia Officials Educate Immigrant Communities about U.S. Environmental Laws
RICHMOND, Virginia One year after a bear parts sting landed dozens of Asians in jail, Virginia officials are pursuing more effective ways to educate the state's diverse communities about environmental laws that often clash with cultural traditions.
The state Department of Game and Inland Fisheries is setting up a task force to study educational options for preserving wildlife while embracing a changing Virginia.
"We're in a melting pot of cultural diversity," said Virginia Delegate Brian Moran. "We want to make sure that because of someone's cultural differences, they're not targets of criminal prosecution."
The need for the task force became evident when the sting operation led to the indictments of more than 100 people because of the sale of animal parts -- chief among them, black bear gallbladders.
The organs are routinely discarded by Americans, but are considered indispensable medicinal aids in some Asian cultures. The dried, leathery pouches are typically powdered and added to drinks to remedy arthritis and other aches.
State law allows hunters to kill one black bear each season, but strictly prohibits the sale of their parts.
"That doesn't really make sense," said Sung Bin Im, president of the Korean American Democrats of Virginia. He said some Korean buyers didn't realize they were breaking the law and that it was easier to pursue buyers than the hunters who likely harvested the parts.
Responding to the outcry, department officials organized a wildlife law seminar in Fairfax County, Virginia, on July 16. About 80 people, many Korean, turned out for detailed explanations on everything from why wild ginseng plants can't be harvested for medicinal purposes to the effects of releasing snakehead fish into Virginia waters, a department spokeswoman said.
"I realized ... that meeting needed to be the first step," said Col. W. Gerald Massengill, the department's interim director. "We needed to, as an agency, develop a long-range strategy that will take us into the future with not just Korean Americans, but all the culturally diverse communities."
He has since appointed a six-person committee to identify new ways the department can reach out. Possible measures include designating liaisons to Asian and Latino communities.
Source: Associated Press