Saw Palmetto Season Brings Illegal Activity to CREW

Saw palmetto berries on bush

It’s summer.

It’s hot.

It’s humid.

And it’s saw palmetto berry season.

That means there’s a lot of new activity in CREW – and some of it is illegal.

Saw palmetto berries are the fruit of the saw palmetto plant (Serenoa repens). Saw palmetto is the predominant understory plant in CREW’s pine flatwoods communities. The berries, which ripen in late summer, are an important food source for wildlife – especially the threatened Florida black bear.

They are also used as an alternative medicine by over 2 million U.S. men to treat benign enlargement of the prostate, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. That and other markets for the berries bring berry pickers to CREW each summer to harvest these fruits, which bring from 10 cents to $3.00 a pound, depending on scarcity and conditions each year.

Evidence the pickers are active

Berry picking on CREW lands is illegal. CREW lands are owned by the South Florida Water Management District and are designated as a Wildlife and Environmental Area (WEA) by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). The regulations for CREW prohibit the taking of any plants or plant parts, including saw palmetto berries which are a significant wildlife food source. FWC law enforcement officers do patrol the area regularly.

These lands are managed specifically for water and wildlife, so when berry-pickers illegally take berries, it disrupts food supply for animals that the CREW land managers and biologists work so hard to protect.

The berry-pickers were busy at CREW today. Our land manager discovered full berry bags and collection buckets all along the Cypress Dome Trails. The CREW staff then went out and helped to collect all the berry bags we could find, along with all the picking gear (and trash) left behind.

Full berry bags

If you are hiking on CREW lands during the next month or so and see anyone picking berries or if you see bags or other evidence of berry-picking, call the FWC Hotline at 888-404-3922. The more feet and eyes out on the trails during this time, the better – for the bears and all of CREW.

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