The Florida burrowing owls (Athene cunicularia floridana) are listed as State Threatened on Florida’s Endangered and Threatened Species list under Florida Administrative Code (FAC) 68A-27.003(2)(g).
Burrowing owls are protected under the Florida Statute (FS) 379.401(2)(a) and under the FAC 68A-27.0003(a. They are also protected under the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, State Rule 68A-16.001, FAC.
Mothballs are regulated pesticides. According to the National Pesticide Information Center, using mothballs in a way not specified on the label is not only illegal, but can harm people, pets, wildlife or the environment. Its use is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency. As such, the label is the law.
According to an Incident Report filed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) on October 3, 2019, FWC Officers Thomas Georgevich and Joshua Arbogast responded to a complaint of a disturbed owl nest at 1430 Wayne Avenue, Marco Island.
Upon arrival, FWC officers located the burrowing owl nest in question. They noted that the property is not developed and is for sale with a named listing agent. The nest appeared unharmed with feathers still visible outside the burrow entrance and an adult sized sneaker footprint clearly outlined in the sand.
The FWC officers were met by the property’s west side neighbor (1422 Wayne Ave.), Mrs. Megan Groves, who stated that someone had knocked down the owl nest’s perch and placed mothballs down the hole of the burrow. FWC officers observed a security camera, located on her garage, pointing directly at the owl nest. She believed that the vacant lot owner and realtor Mr. Roger Fleming, was the suspect. Mrs. Groves explained that her camera was not originally pointing at the nest. However, Mrs. Groves later pointed the camera at the nest in case the suspect returned.
The property’s east side neighbor (1438 Wayne Ave.), Mrs. Tracey Taylor, also met the FWC officers on the scene. Mrs. Taylor stated that her and her husband were the ones who initially found the mothballs. Mrs. Taylor quickly contacted Marco Island’s Owl Watch Group and FWC. Both Mrs. Groves and Mrs. Taylor explained that the nest has been very active and that they had seen the owls daily, which was confirmed by Owl Watch volunteer, Lin Taylor.
FWC Officers attempted to make contact with Mr. Fleming at his home to talk to him about the incident. FWC officers planned to contact Fleming again and also hoped that Mrs. Groves’ repositioned security camera would catch the suspect if he/she came back the second time.
On October 4, 2019, Mrs. Groves and Mrs. Taylor called into FWC dispatch and stated that the suspect had returned and they have recorded the act on Mrs. Grove’s security camera.
FWC Officers Georgevich and Arbogast arrived at the scene and Mrs. Groves took the FWC officers inside her house to show them the camera footage. In the footage, an individual quickly walked up to the nest and threw something into the nest. It was later discovered that the objects were, again, mothballs. The suspect appeared to be a male wearing white. The suspect’s face was not visible, however, both Mrs. Groves and Taylor stated that they recognized the individual in the video as Mr. Roger Fleming.
October 4, 2019, after reviewing the camera footage and removing the mothballs, the FWC officers drove to Fleming’s house for questioning, which was captured on the officer’s body camera. FWC issued Fleming a court summons for Second Degree Misdemeanor for Violation of FAC 68A.27.003)(a), pertaining to endangered or threatened species.
On October 8, 2019, FWC Officers Georgevich and Arbogast returned to the scene to gather more evidence. They were met with FWC certified biologist Nancy Richie to check the inside of the nest with the use of a snake camera to see if there were more mothballs or dead owls. Nothing of concern was observed.
This case is scheduled for December 23rd at 10 AM at the Collier County Courthouse.