“Some builders will still do the wrong thing and consider the violation FINES just a small cost of doing business.”
~ Karol Tenace, Owl Watch Marco Assistant Manager
Florida burrowing owls and their burrows are protected under Florida law, Chapter 68A-27 of the Florida Administrative Code. Per the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) before clearing a lot for a building project, you must obtain a permit from FWC if either an owl or their burrows are present on the development site.
Since 2017, 1068 Cottonwood Court has been on the Owl Watch Marco monitoring list as having a burrowing owl burrow on the vacant property. On March 2, 2019, an Owl Watch monitor discovered that the vacant lot had been cleared, graded and concrete pilings had been drilled into the ground.
Gone was the owl burrow and its posting and it appeared that the owl burrow had been illegally destroyed in the grading process. The violation was promptly reported to FWC law enforcement.
The FWC permit website reflected that Nancy Richie was the FWC agent on record and an FWC permit was pending. The owner had delegated Ms. Richie to file the necessary Migratory Bird Permit Removal Application. Ms. Richie completed the Nest Inspection Report and Bird Management Plan.
Per FWC guidelines, “The burrow will be removed within 24 hours of construction activity required for the driveway/culvert/stormwater swale area.”
Unfortunately, Ms. Richie was never notified 24 hours prior to construction activity.
On January 7, 2019, Marco Island passed an ordinance that provided additional protections for its most commonly found endangered, threatened or listed species including the burrowing owls. Penalties were added which included fines of a minimum of $150 and a maximum fine “not to exceed $2,000 for its third offense.”
Several Marco Island City Councilors were strongly in favor of adding a “jail time” provision to send a strong message to repeat offenders. Councilor Sam Young chastised his fellow councilors for “paying lip service to the protection of its wildlife with fines of $100 up to $500, which is chump change for developers with deep pockets.”
Councilor Charlette Roman has lived in Marco for the past 18+ years and stated that the majority of its residents love Marco’s beautiful environment. But there is a small group that will “destroy, kill, entomb a burrowing owl and pay the fine.” As Roman added, “How else are you going to get their attention?”
At the January 7, 2019 City Council meeting, the political will was lacking to add the “jail time” provision. Also, on January 7, the City Council of Cape Coral unanimously voted to protect their burrowing owl population with a “fine not to exceed $500 or by imprisonment in county jail for a period not to exceed 60 days or both.”
The Protected Species violation for 1068 Cottonwood Court is currently under investigation by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.