Blog by Stasia Kelly | Our Media Relations Specialist
Landowners in 14 southeast Georgia counties have been seeking help from law enforcement as the theft of saw palmetto berries increases. The Georgia Forestry Commission is working with local authorities to track illegal harvesters who are canvassing forestland in search of the in-season berries. Arrests have been made by both Georgia Forestry Commission and local law enforcement agencies in August. More are expected as berry season progresses and surveillance efforts increase.
Globally, the berries are a $130-$150 million market, as they are used to treat medical conditions including prostate issues and hair loss. In Georgia during a high yield crop season, illegally harvested berries have been estimated for a loss of $500,000 plus to landowners. Most saw palmettos grow naturally in the forest. The berries may be sold in Georgia when proper documentation procedures are followed.
According to a GFC investigator, landowners often do not notice the thefts until their property has been picked clean. Illegal harvesters operate day and night and may be dangerous if confronted. Landowners are being urged to keep a close eye on all parts of their property, by using cameras and inspecting for unusual passage marks and parked vehicles. Any unauthorized activity should be reported to local law enforcement or the GFC.
“Theft by taking” of illegally harvested palmetto berries valued under $1500 is a misdemeanor and is a felony if over $1500.