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Group accused of harvesting exploited plant

Another group of migrant workers has been caught picking saw palmetto seeds in the Chassahowitzka Wildlife Management Area.

On Wednesday, eight migrant workers from Clewiston, ages 19 to 52, received citations for harvesting a commercially exploited plant, a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to a year imprisonment. They were also ordered to appear in Hernando County court in Brooksville for arraignment on Oct. 20.

During the past two weeks, the Sheriff's Office has issued numerous citations and arrested a number of migrant workers who apparently traveled to Hernando County from surrounding areas to harvest the plant.

On Sept. 14, authorities cited 16 illegal immigrants from Immokalee, Collier County, after stopping a suspicious white pickup at Zebrafinch Avenue and U.S. 19.

Three days later, authorities returned to Zebrafinch Avenue and arrested six workers from Immokalee who, according to the report, thought that previous citations were simply warnings and continued harvesting the seeds without permission.

The recent incident occurred on Yellowthroat Avenue near Ramsey Road in northwest Hernando County, just south of the Citrus County border.

A sheriff's deputy patrolling the area noticed several people walking in and out of a field carrying bundles of seeds about 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.

In the last two cases, about 200 pounds of saw palmetto shrubs were left behind.

The state protects native plant species that are either endangered, threatened or commercially exploited.

The fan-shaped leaves contain a compound that can be used medically to reduce the effects of prostate cancer. Harvesters need permission from the state and/or the landowner.

Duane Bourne can be reached at (352) 754-6114 or dbournesptimes.com.

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