Palmetto berry pickers picked up by OCSO

OKEECHOBEE — The Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO) has been busy rounding up those individuals who violate the state’s new saw palmetto berry harvest requirements, which requires a permit to harvest saw palmetto berries.

Serenoa repens fruit, Saw Palmetto berries. Photo courtesy of UF.

On Aug. 21, OCSO Deputy Bryan Holden, was dispatched to the area of Southeast 59th Boulevard in regards to a suspicious persons complaint.

Upon his arrival he reportedly saw two males and one female walk between the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) property and the railroad tracks. Each of the three people appeared to be carrying a white feed sack.

Deputy Holden contacted SFWMD and was informed that no one had been given permission to pick saw palmetto berries on the property and that they wished to pursue criminal charges against the three individuals.

All three individuals were arrested, transported and booked into the Okeechobee County Jail on misdemeanor charges of petit theft and violation of plant industry law. The berries were photographed and returned to SFWMD Service Center per their request. The total weight of berries amongst the three was 124 pounds. The report noted that the street value of the berries is $3.65 per pound bringing the total value of berries taken to $452.60.

On Aug. 27, OCSO Deputy James Hartsfield responded to the 16000 block of Northwest 176th Avenue in regards to a suspicious vehicle parked in a church parking lot. Detective Dale LaFlam initially made contact with the vehicle and reportedly suspected the occupants were picking saw palmetto berries on private property not belonging to them, as he saw one of the people in a pasture located in the 16000 block of Northwest 176th Avenue on the west side of the road. The pasture was reportedly encompassed with a five-strand barbed wire fence.

Deputy Hartsfield reported meeting with the three individuals and inquired as to why they were in the pasture and if they had the land owner’s permission to harvest the berries. The report then stated Deputy Holden walked into the pasture and located the berries still on stalks in sacks and buckets with cutters found nearby, suspected of being used during the harvest.

The property owner was contacted and informed that while she did not want to pursue charges against them for trespassing, she did want to press criminal charges against the trio for the theft of the berries. The report concluded that the berries and suspected tools to harvest them were collected and submitted as evidence. All three individuals were arrested on misdemeanor charges of petit theft, harvesting commercially exploited plant without permit and violation of plant industry law. Each one of them received a $3,000 bond.

The total weight of the berries was 8-10 pounds with an estimated value of $29-$36.50.
According to an incident report by OCSO Deputy John Fisher, at 11:22 a.m. on Aug. 29, he was on patrol in the vicinity of Northwest 176th Avenue when he saw a red 2003 Dodge truck parked alongside the road near the 18000 block of Northwest 264th Street.

Upon his arrival, Deputy Fisher began to reportedly investigate the truck and met with the registered owner of the vehicle. The man walked out of what appeared to be a vacant lot located north of his truck.

The man reportedly told Deputy Fisher that he and his friend were picking berries due to the high sale prices. While he spoke with Deputy Fisher, the man reportedly gave verbal consent for Deputy Fisher to look in the white cooler in the back of the truck to see the berries that were supposedly gathered by the two.

Deputy Fisher then reported asking the two men if they had the required state issued permit to harvest the saw palmetto berries, to which neither did and both explained they were unaware of a permit being required. Deputy Fisher reportedly explained to the duo the new requirements of Florida State Statute 581.185 in regards to the harvest, transport and sale of saw palmetto berries.

It was noted in the report that a property owner was not located as Deputy Fisher was unable to determine which lot(s) the suspects were on.

The report concluded that the berries the men harvested were seized, with a sample portion of the berries submitted as evidence and the rest being destroyed. The two men were issued criminal notice to appear citations for harvesting saw palmetto berries without a permit. The total weight of the berries seized and destroyed was 28 pounds with a total value of $102.20.

“After receiving input from public and private landowners, conservation interests, and other interested parties, the Endangered Plant Advisory Council unanimously recommended adding saw palmetto to the department’s commercially exploited plant list,” the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) said on its website. “The recommendation was adopted by department rule which results in new requirements for the harvesting of saw palmetto berries. These new requirements took effect July 17, 2018.”

Florida Statute 581.185 defines commercially exploited plants as “species native to the state which are subject to being removed in significant numbers from native habitats in the state and sold or transported for sale.” Anyone caught with such a plant in their possession without a permit will be charged with a first degree misdemeanor and could face up to a year in jail.

The new rules dictate that: Any landowner harvesting saw palmetto berries for sale must obtain a Native Plant Harvesting Permit from the FDACS Division of Plant Industry. The permit application must be submitted at least 14 days before the intended date of the harvest. Multiple properties can be listed on one application; Anyone under a contract to harvest the berries must have written permission from the landowner and must also have a Native Plant Harvesting Permit. The permit application must be submitted at least 14 days before the intended date of the harvest. Multiple people can be listed on one application; Anyone entering property other than their own to harvest berries must have written permission from the landowner; Anyone transporting for sale, selling or offering for sale saw palmetto berries from their own property must also have a Native Plant Harvesting Permit. The permit application must be submitted at least 14 days before the intended date of the harvest; Anyone transporting, processing or purchasing berries that are not from their property does not need a permit, but must have the written permission of the landowner in their immediate possession at all times; Anyone harvesting on state or any other public land must also obtain written permission; and The permit must be in your immediate possession at all times while harvesting berries.

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