With sharp, serrated frond stems, the saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) is aptly named. It is the dominant understory plant of the pine flatwoods at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and across most of Florida. Golden and grape-like, saw palmetto berries are ripening right now, providing a crucial food source for Florida black bears as well as raccoons, white-tailed deer, and other species.
These plants are plentiful across the 13,000-acre Sanctuary however, saw palmetto berries are often harvested for use in the pharmaceutical industry, leaving bears and other animals without this important food source. It is considered poaching if the berries are harvested from private property. In 2018, the issue became severe enough that the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services implemented new statewide rules requiring a permit, and land-owner permission, in order to legally harvest the berries.
Because poaching has taken place on Sanctuary lands over the years, signs are posted to alert potential poachers of the protected Sanctuary boundaries. From August through November when the berries are ripening, our Land Management team increases boundary patrols and keeps in close contact with law enforcement partners. Whenever evidence of illegal access is observed, our colleagues at Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Collier County Sheriff’s Office quickly respond.
This combination of efforts is necessary to ensure the Sanctuary continues to meet its mission, which includes protecting natural resources for the benefit of birds, other wildlife, and people.