Saturday, December 7, 2019

2nd Owl Violation in November: Penalties May Not Be Helping


On November 16th, Volunteer Karol Tenace, Jean Hall, Owl Watch Manager and Alli Smith, Staff Biologist for Audubon of the Western Everglades (AWE), received a call from Owl Watch volunteer Ed Caster. Caster was walking his dog and noticed two owl postings were pulled up and thrown in the Right of Way on a vacant lot on Collingswood Ct.

Photos by Maria Lamb | Tire marks just 6 inches from the burrow entrance.

The trio—Tenace, Hall and Smith—immediately drove to the Collingswood location. It was determined that both postings had been pulled along with the T-perches marking burrow entrance. Smith determined one burrow collapsed by a truck running over it. The other burrow was narrowly missed by 6 inches. 

Code Enforcement Officer John Kovacs responded and put up temporary posting to alert others of the burrow collapse until Owl Watch can repost with permission from the owner. FWC Officer also responded. This lot is for sale.

On November 6th, Owl Watch Volunteer Lin Taylor called FWC and MIPD Code Enforcement to report an owl burrow violation on a Tigertail Court vacant lot. Taylor saw a nearby burrow filled with dirt and pea gravel. 

On October 6th, video footage recorded a Marco Island real estate agent and property owner dumping poisonous mothballs into an owl burrow on a Wayne Court vacant lot. FWC was called and this incident is under criminal investigation. This “Mothball Case” was on the October 29th magistrate docket, but the attorney for the lot owner requested a continuance.

These incidents follow others in 2019 where contractors had dumped dirt and other materials on top of owl burrows. 

Yes You Can Build! Brad Cornell, AWE’s Policy Director, has repeatedly emphasized that there is NO need to risk criminal prosecution and local and state fines for harming or threatening a burrowing owl or any threatened species. The presence of owls or other protected species on vacant lots does NOT mean the lot cannot be built on or sold. Anyone can obtain a state permit to build over owl nests after breeding season (February-mid July).

On January 7th, 2019, the Marco City Council passed the Protected Species Act and it should have been great news for everyone concerned in providing a sustainable environment for Marco’s imperiled wildlife.

Alli Smith, Staff Biologist for AWE determined one burrow collapsed by a truck running over the burrow.

Regrettably, the new ordinance did not provide a sufficiently strong deterrent for the most egregious wildlife offenders. As in the cases above, there are and will be people that will harm Marco’s wildlife and their habitat. 

According to Andrew Tyler, an Owl Watch Volunteer, “While the potential fine of $5,000 might be considered sufficient to act as a deterrent, the actual fine set by a visiting magistrate have shown remarkable leniency.”

Tyler also added, “The admitted attempt to harm burrowing owls through the use of mothballs have struck a chord with the community. We are still waiting for the magisterial enforcement of this crime and watching for the outcome with great interest.”

The City of Cape Coral’s ordinance was also passed on January 7th and is very similar to Marco’s Protected Species Ordinance passed on January 7th. But Cape Coral made the bold move of adding “Up to 60 days in jail time for repeat offenders.”

An ordinance with the possibility of jail time for the most egregious offenders after their third offense may be required to get everybody’s attention and to save Marco’s imperiled wildlife such as burrowing owls, gopher tortoises and sea turtles.

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