Note: Audio to come.
WGCU asked for comment about how enforceable the present moratorium on saw palmetto berry picking might be in light of the black market that exists around the berry. A spokesperson with the Florida Department of Agriculture wrote in an email "The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is partnering with our department to help enforce the moratorium on palmetto berry harvests on state forest land."
The Florida Department of Agriculture recently put a moratorium on picking saw palmetto berries in state forests. The berries are a major part of the state’s black bear diet. They’re also collected and sold for medicines.
Environmental groups said the lack of available berries for bears is one of the likely causes behind the recent incidents between humans and bears.
Now that berry pickers are being put on hold, they want the state to also hold off on its recently approved bear hunt.
Chuck O’Neal is the first vice president of the League of Women Voters of Florida and chair of its state natural resources committee. He said the bears’ population growth has been gradual.
“Did it just reach a critical point in the past couple years where bears just said, ‘Well, I’ve had enough. I’m just going after humans’? I don’t think so. I don’t think that is a realistic assumption. Something has happened to their habitat,” O’Neal said.
That something, he said, might be the picking of the saw palmetto berry.
The Florida Department of Agriculture might agree with O'Neal. A spokesperson wrote in an email that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission “expressed concern to our staff about the potential impact of palmetto berry harvests in state forests on Florida’s bear population.”
Still, the bear hunt is moving forward. The FWC said it’s a way to manage the bear population that has rebounded over the last 50 years.
The Orlando Sentinel reports a black market for these berries exists. The state Department of Agriculture did not return requests for comment on how enforceable the ban might be.
O’Neal said at the minimum the FWC should wait a year to see if the moratorium reduces the number of conflicts between bears and humans.