SAVANNAH, Ga. – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers relies on many assets to completes its missions, but perhaps an unexpected source of revenue for the Savannah District is the selling of palmetto berries that naturally grow at Fort Stewart, Georgia.
Every year, Savannah District foresters allows a select contractor access to gather the berries. Prior to each season, the Directorate of Public Works Forestry Department at Fort Stewart identifies areas to be harvested and seeks the required environmental approval. Savannah District real estate foresters then oversees the operation by selling the available berries to the highest bidder. In a typical year, the Corps earns anywhere between $50,000 to $80,000 but this year was an especially good crop and earned more than $105,000, sold at the rate of $1.20 per pound.
“The main benefits in selling the palmetto berries are generating income for the Army forestry reserve account and helping stimulate the local civilian economy,” said Ean Jones, Savannah District’s supervisory forester. “That forestry income is used to provide labor funds for installation and Corps forestry staff and forestry-related expenditures such as equipment, reforestation efforts, forested habitat rehabilitation, prescribed burning efforts, and forest health-related activities.”
The berries are the fruit of the native shrublike palm species Serenoa repens, commonly called saw palmetto, which is native as an undergrowth in pine forests in the Southeastern United States. Saw palmetto extract is promoted as a dietary supplement to improve the symptoms of certain prostate issues.
“Palmetto berry harvesting is fairly low impact and although areas may look a little trampled after being gathered due to the nature of hand picking, the plants are extremely hardy and recover within a rain event or two,” said Jones. “The only impacts to wildlife would be just the result of humans being in the area for a short period of time which may displace them for a little bit.”
Selling palmetto berries isn’t the only way Fort Stewart generates revenue from the land. Timber, pine straw, pine resin, resinous stumps, and longleaf pinecones seeds are also big sources of money for the installation. Additionally, timber harvesting has other benefits beyond financial gain, including soldier training and several environmental benefits.
Because of the contracting work, no unauthorized harvesting is allowed. Corps foresters work closely with Fort Stewart military police to alert them of contractor movements while looking out for poachers. “Theft by taking” of illegally gathered palmetto berries valued under $1500 is a misdemeanor and is a felony if over $1500, according to the Georgia Forestry Commission.