COLLIER COUNTY, Fla. - Seven people were arrested in Collier County for picking saw palmetto berries. In July, the State of Florida designated the saw palmetto as an "exploited plant," meaning it's now illegal to pick berries from the plants without a permit from the Department of Agriculture, and written permission from the owner of property on which the saw palmettos might be growing.
Steve Gafford of Golden Gate Estates said that people picking saw palmetto berries on private property - without permission from the property owners - has been a problem in the Estates for years.
"Nobody wants people prowling around on their property without permission," Gafford said. "It's an invasion of privacy."
His neighbor called the Collier County Sheriff's Office on Wednesday when she caught some people picking the berries on her property on 14th Avenue Southeast. Four people were arrested on that call, and then three more were arrested a few miles away on 4th Avenue Northeast - all charged with harvesting an endangered plant.
Gafford said he believes the berries are sold in Immokalee for their extract, believed by some to relieve prostate problems and other ailments.
"It's more hocus-pocus medicinal than a food source," he said.
But he believes that the berry pickers take a food source away from wildlife.
"Specifically bears and deer that I know for sure," he said.
The permit to harvest saw palmetto berries is free. A request must be made for the permit through the Florida Department of Agriculture, in addition to getting written permission from any property owners.