ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - Palmetto berries have been a main food source for Florida’s black bears and for years the state has allowed people to harvest the berries with almost no regulation.
Now, that is changing as the state tries to find ways to balance the competing demand for berries from its human residents and bruin residents.
The demand for the palmetto berries began to spike in 2015. The berries grow in the wild and are a key ingredient in prostate drugs. They are also a stable of the Florida black bear’s diet.
"It's a huge part of their diet at a critical time in their life cycle,” said Chuck O’Neil, an environmentalist.
After years of harvesters heading out into the woods to gather the berries, the state finally designated palmetto berries as "commercially exploited.”
The state has set up a permit process to regulate harvesting.
So far, more than 1,600 permits have been issued this year.
Harvesters are required to specify where they will pick and if they have permission to be on the land.
According to records from Florida Fish and Wildlife, there were more than 90 citations issued for illegal harvesting from 2017 to 2018 - evidence that demand for the berries remains high, as the state bear population continues to rebound.
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