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St. Lucie County Reminds Residents It’s Illegal to Pick Saw Palmetto Berries from Public Lands
It’s almost saw palmetto berry picking time and biologists and land managers are expecting to see a large amount of berries on public and private lands this summer. St. Lucie County’s Environmental Resources Department (ERD) warns residents and visitors that it is illegal to harvest saw palmetto berries on any public property, especially on our conservation lands, preserves and parks.
St. Lucie County has nearly 20,000 acres of public conservation land which provides our community with ecotourism and passive recreation outlets, but also provides wildlife with critical food resources, habitat and refuge.
In recent years, palmetto berry poaching has become a major problem for land managers statewide and this year the ERD staff is partnering will multiple law enforcement agencies, including the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Department, Department of Environmental Protection, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to crack down on violators. Large poaching operations have been known to damage and destroy public property including fences, gates, locks, and even sensitive habitat areas with illegal vehicular access.
“While it may seem like a harmless crime – people can get into trouble with trespassing, theft charges, and fines, “explained St. Lucie County Environmental Resources Director Amy Griffin. “We are urging folks to get permission from private land owners and avoid public lands altogether. Our preserves were purchased to preserve important native habitat and to protect the wildlife that depend on them.”
Saw palmetto berries are sold in pharmaceutical and herbal supplement markets which has fueled a demand for berry collection in recent years. Biologists believe that the berries are the single most important food source for wildlife species such as the black bear and may have been closely linked to their migration patterns across the Southeast based on production and availability. Palmetto berries were also historically used by Native Americans and early pioneers for food supply and medicinal purposes.
According to State Law and County Ordinance Sec. 32-89, it is illegal to harvest any fruit, berries, plants or animals found on State and County property.
Anyone who enters public or private land to pick berries without lawful permission can be arrested for trespassing. In addition, taking berries constitutes the crime of theft, which can be a misdemeanor or felony depending on the amount and value of the berries taken.
Private property owners can protect themselves by putting “NO TRESPASSING” signs on their property as well as signs indicating that berry pickers are not allowed. Also be aware of strange vehicles driving up and down roads and report all suspicious activity.
Property owners can pick their own saw palmetto berries or make arrangements for someone to pick them for you. Pickers will move on if they do not see any on your property.
If residents witness people illegally harvesting berries from public lands, they are asked to contact law enforcement immediately by calling 911.