Trespassing in Lehigh Acres
Saw Palmetto Berries Pickers Are Out
By Aaron Lynch
Here in Lehigh Acres, we not only attract snowbirds during the winter months, but we also attract berry pickers during the summer time. It is that time of year now that residents of Lehigh Acres can see people trespassing on private property searching for saw palmetto berries to pick. To some the pickers do no harm, but to others they are a huge concern and safety issue. Year after year these pickers have been coming to Lehigh Acres for only one purpose, and that is to trespass for their own benefit.
This is not just only a local problem. Berry picking is a large-scale operation that is taking place statewide. State parks with the help of FWC have been unsuccessfully trying to stop pickers every season. The Florida black bear depends on the saw palmetto as a source of food in the summer and pickers strip ever last berry they can get to. Do not be fooled when you drive by one or two pickers and form a belief that it is a small-scale operation. These individuals come in massive numbers and a few people can pick 5,000 lbs of berries per day. This large-scale picking of the saw palmetto berries can have a long-term effect on the surrounding environment. The palmetto berry is also the seed for the next generation of plants if they continue to be stripped the plants existence will be threatened. Recent studies have shown saw palmettos are crucial for the survival of the Florida Panther. Animals that utilize the and depend on the berries for survival are numerous including over a hundred species of birds 27 mammal species, 25 amphibians, and 61 reptiles. I would consider the saw palmetto a keystone species in florida.
Residents of Lehigh Acres have raised a concern to local officials year after year, but have continued to be told “their hands are tied.” According to the law nothing can be done unless the private landowners call the Sheriff’s office themselves and report the pickers. What message is this sending to the pickers? They know that they can come to Lehigh Acres and get away with trespassing. They have no respect for authority and continue to pick on private land and state forests. How would they handle this situation if this was happening in a more affluent area?
Its time to take action. How many more years are we going to allow this to happen? In 2008 Commissioner Mann said that he is open to suggestions on how to solve this problem. My view is that they are stealing the berries and the larger companies buying them are dealing in stolen goods. The State has already put laws in effect making it illegal to pick berries on state land . Its time to protect our private land as well.