People illegally harvesting palmetto berries, FWC says

The state legalized a berry that is a main food source for bears because they are bringing in big money, but the harvest cant happen on state land.

VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. — Bears and other wildlife rely on palmetto berries for food, but some are illegally harvesting them, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission told Eyewitness News.

Debbie Cheney works at an animal hospital near Port St. John Parkway and Interstate 95.

Cheney said for years people have been going on the land next door to pick the berries.

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"It gives them a good opportunity to make money this time of year, as long as you are doing it legally, and you know, you are not going onto other peoples' property and trespassing like that," Cheney told Channel 9's Jeff Levkulich.

Palmetto berries are valuable and are used to make herbal supplements.

Right now some are paying as much as $2.50 a pound. But when they are scarce, bears will roam nearby neighborhoods and trashcans looking for food.

In August alone, there have been 41 citations issued statewide for illegal berry pickers and 26 warnings, according to FWC.

Eyewitness News spotted people illegally picking berries when we were out reporting on this story.

Florida Highway Patrol said the berry pickers are also stopping along the side of the road on Interstate 95 in Volusia County.

"We have also received complaints from construction companies working the I-95 corridor that they are stopping in their construction zones and it's creating a safety hazard,” said Kim Montes with the Florida Highway Patrol.

Troopers are now ticketing people for being an illegal pedestrian on the interstate.

If people are caught picking berries on state land, they could face a second-degree misdemeanor.