FLORIDA — Two Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) officers and their trusty K9 companion, Jenny, stopped a group of alleged illegal saw palmetto berry harvesters from removing harvested berries from a state park.
“When our officers heard sounds of multiple individuals fleeing through the brush, they arrived to find bags, baskets, and backpacks filled with illegally harvested berries, a.k.a. drupes,” the FWC said.
“Our berry good K9 immediately went to work, alerting the officers to more discarded equipment nearby.”
The pursuit, however, was intentionally limited to ensure the four-legged hero’s safety, considering the day’s soaring temperatures, the FWC said.
While the pursuit might have been curtailed for the well-being of K9 Jenny, the impact of their efforts resonated far beyond the apprehension. The confiscated berries were promptly returned to the state park rangers, who scattered them back into the natural habitat.
This ensures that the wildlife in the area will continue to benefit from this valuable food resource, even if it means dining off the ground.
The importance of saw palmettos extends beyond their role as a food source. The plants provide habitat and sustenance to over 200 different species of wildlife. However, the illegal harvesting of these berries disrupts this delicate balance, depriving wildlife of a critical resource and impeding the plant’s natural spread, the FWC said.
In accordance with Florida Department of Agriculture regulations, harvesting and selling saw palmetto berries requires a permit. Violating the law by harvesting these berries on state land can result in penalties, including jail time of up to 60 days and fines of up to $500 per conviction.
In this specific case, the potential charges range from theft and grand theft to trespassing, said the FWC.