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.

14 Replies to “Saw Palmetto Season Brings Illegal Activity to CREW”

    1. It’s true that CREW lands are public lands. The title owner and land manager is the South Florida Water Management District, and since CREW is also a designated Wildlife and Environmental Area (WEA), the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission has law enforcement authority within CREW. The rules for the use of CREW prohibit the taking or destroying of any vegetation or plant part, therefore, it is illegal to pick saw palmetto berries on CREW.

      1. With the economy the way it is, unemployment unbearably high – PEOPLE COME FIRST. I’m probably one of the biggest animal lovers there is – HOWEVER – People need to eat and pay bills too and if it comes down to it, I would put a legal US citizen surviving before I worry about an animal. There is plenty of food out there for animals.

      1. I found this on the FWC website, it is great information on the Florida Black Bear:

        “What Does a Black Bear Eat?

        Bears are called omnivores because they eat both plant and animals. A Florida black bear’s diet varies, but usually consists of 80% plants, 15% insects, and 5% animal matter.

        The vegetative part of their diet is made up of grasses and leaves, as well as mast. Hard mast is the fruit of forest trees like acorns, hickory and other nuts, while soft mast is fruits such as saw palmetto, holly, and pokeweed berries.
        They also feed on colonial insects such as wasps, bees, termites, and ants.
        The small meat portion of their diet is things that are dead (carrion) or play dead (e.g. armadillos, opossums) and are mostly obtained from scavenging.

        FWC has compiled an extensive list of natural food items that Florida bears are known to eat.
        The black bear diet varies seasonally and yearly depending on fluctuations in plant productivity but it is also based on geographic variation from one region of Florida to the next. For example, saw palmetto berries are a high portion of bear diets in the Osceola population, but insignificant in the Apalachicola population where the berries are not readily available. For more information on each region’s population, please see our distribution map.

        During the summer months, bears eat about 5,000 calories a day or the equivalent of two large cheese pizzas. But as fall begins bears start preparing for winter by going through a process of increased feeding called hyperphagia. Both sexes will forage up to 18 hours a day and gain up to 1½ times their summer weight. This weight gain is because they are taking in up to 20,000 calories a day or the equivalent of 8½ large cheese pizzas. Another way to look at it is 20,000 calories is what the average person eats in 10 days! Gaining weight allows bears to make it through the leaner winter months, where both male and female bears will lose weight due to the lack of abundant food items. Once freezing temperatures set in bears will begin denning. Bears can lose up to 25% of their body weight while denning.

        A bear is always looking for food, and is not very particular as to what foods they will eat. In addition, the bear can smell food up to a mile away. A bear’s search for food is the primary cause of conflicts with people. Bears are often attracted to smells of garbage, beeyards, pet foods, barbeque grills, wildlife feeders, and other temptations bring them closer to human homes, which can result in property damage and safety concerns for both people and bears. Bears that habitually feed on human supplied foods such as garbage, wildlife feed, or pet food tend to be abnormally large.

        It is important to know how to keep our Florida bears wild and away from your home. For more information, please visit Living With Bears.”

  1. Yeah saw palmetto plants one of the most common plant in SF. I really don’t think it would hurt if people picked at the berries.

    1. Alex,

      Thank you for your comment. CREW is a wildlife environmental area (WEA) which means that the area is protected not only for environmental and ecological purposes, but also for wildlife habitat. Saw Palmetto Berries are a very important food source for the Florida Black Bear (and many other species) and is even more important now since there are more human/wildlife interactions with development expanding in our area. Places like CREW are important wildlife corridors and with enough protected land and an adequate food supply, it is hopeful that bears will not need to venture into developments for food (e.g. garbage cans, bird feeders, etc). If you have further questions or comments, please feel free to contact us.

  2. I appreciate your informative feedback to the bloggers. They all mean well, but so many opinions, so little facts.

    For free, you can educate yourself on your envionment by contacting UF/IFAS:

    UF/IFAS has Extension offices in each of Florida’s 67 counties as well as 12 Research and Education Centers (RECs), Research and Demonstration Sites (RDSs), and several other offices are located throughout the state.

    For a fee, you can take UF’s incredible Master Natualist Program.

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