SEBRING — Just a week after the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services sent out notices warning people not to pick palmetto berries without a permit, someone did.
Pedro M. Perez, 64, of Plant City reportedly stopped a car at midday Wednesday on Brescia Avenue in Lake Placid and allegedly went onto private property to pick the fruit.
A Highlands County deputy sheriff reportedly saw Perez carrying a burlap bag loaded with the berries to the back of the car which was parked on the road.
Perez’s statements to deputies were redacted from arrest reports. He was charged with harvesting an endangered plant without consent — a misdemeanor — and arrested.
People were warned on Aug. 1 that harvesting palmetto berries and selling them would now require a permit, even on their own land.
Neither the permit nor the application would require a fee, according to a Highlands County Sheriff’s Office press release at the time, but those who don’t get a permit and are caught transporting or selling the berries could get charged with a misdemeanor.
The berry, found in abundance in Highlands County, is a popular natural remedy for prostate issues — one of the reasons people have harvested it, often sneaking onto others’ properties to get it, according to the press release.
However, the berries make up a key part of the diet of the Florida black bear, which is 80 vegetable matter, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at www.myfwc.com.
The rest is 15 percent insects — wasps, bees, termites and ants — followed 5 percent animal matter, usually scavenged.
People harvesting palmetto berries in large numbers could interfere with the bears’ food source, causing the animals to seek other sources, like residential garbage.
The new rules actually went into effect on July 17, two weeks before the notice. Reports did not state whether or not Perez had received or seen the notice through local media in Plant City.
However, local landowners got the message, if not from the Sheriff’s Office or local media, from member organizations.
Ray Royce, executive director of Highlands County citrus Growers Association, told his members last Monday that the FDACS along with the Endangered Plant Advisory Council had added saw palmetto to the Department’s commercially exploited plant list.
He advised members to reach out to Highlands County Agricultural Deputy Fred Tagmeier with issues they might be have on their property, including people trespassing to pick the fruit.
For further details, contact Tagmeier at the Sheriff’s Office, at (863) 402-7200.