“Several 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
On February 6, 2019, a building permit was issued for 1068 Cottonwood Drive. Since 2017, this property been documented by Owl Watch Marco to have a burrowing owl.
On March 2, 2019, an Owl Watch monitor discovered that the lot had been cleared and graded for construction. Concrete pilings had been drilled into the ground. A large NOVA Homes builder’s sign had been erected on the lot.
Gone was the owl burrow and its posting and It appeared that the owl burrow had been illegally destroyed and an owl possibly killed or even entombed in the grading process.
The violation was promptly reported to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) law enforcement. According to Jean Hall, Owl Watch Program Manager, “It is nesting season now, and there could have been eggs or chicks below.”
The FWC permit website reflected the following: Nancy Richie was the FWC agent on record; and a PERMIT WAS PENDING. 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.” Ms. Richie was NEVER notified to remove the burrow 24 hours prior to construction.
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. Breaking the law is “just the cost of doing business” for unscrupulous builders.
Also on January 7th, 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.