RALEIGH, NC (WECT) - Venus Flytraps can only be found growing naturally in a few counties in North and South Carolina, and if you steal one in North Carolina, you'll face felony charges thanks to new, tougher laws.
Gov. Pat McCrory's signature on Senate Bill 734 makes it a felony to steal Venus Flytrap plants in North Carolina.
The General Assembly passed SB 734, with language that toughens the penalties for stealing the rare plants, which only grow naturally within a 70 mile radius of Wilmington.
Rep. Ted Davis (R-New Hanover) originally proposed the legislation to make it a felony in New Hanover County.
Davis expanded the bill to cover Brunswick, Pender and Onslow counties, and the original bill passed the state House of Representatives in June.
Senate leaders stripped the Venus Flytrap language out of the bill in July, pushing it as a "Room Occupancy Tax" bill instead.
Senators re-inserted the language into Senate Bill 734, the "Regulatory Reform Act of 2014", and strengthened the proposal to make the crime a felony across North Carolina.
The tougher punishment for stealing Venus Flytrap plants will take effect December 1, 2014.
Dan Ryan, director of the North Carolina Nature Conservancy Chapter's Southeast Coastal Plain Program, said he hopes the heightened punishment will give the crime more weight in the court system.
"What we're hoping is that judges will see that [poaching] has an impact on our natural heritage because it is a felony. Maybe it will carry a little more weight in the sentencing," Ryan said reflecting on the number of perpetrators who slipped through the cracks while the offense was labeled as a misdemeanor. " As you can imagine, a judge's docket is pretty full with more substantial crimes in the eyes of the judge and District Attorney. More often than not, it [was] a slap on the wrist or court costs and the person [was] allowed to walk."
Ryan said poachers usually steal thousands of plants at a time because the venus fly trap grows in clusters. "That's a heck of a lot of plants, considering the small number we have to begin with, Ryan said.
Thieves usually use kitchen spoons to dig them up to sell illegally; an issue considering a 90-mile radius around Wilmington is the only area worldwide where the plants grow naturally.
Ryan hopes the new law will cause poachers think twice before snagging any more plants.