Love Birds Save Trees
- Today's Los Angeles Times - with two large photos, including one that
shows two Herons in a nest exhibiting beautiful courtship behavior and
one that shows two CA Dept. of Fish & Game officials investigating the site.
Friday, December 1, 2000
Love Birds Save Trees
Environment: Trimming limbs on a developer's property would wrongly
displace courting herons, officials say.
By GINA PICCALO, Special to The Times
State animal wardens on Thursday halted a Marina del Rey developer from
trimming cypress trees on his waterfront property because the job would
unlawfully disturb several pairs of great blue herons nesting there.
That decision came after an all-day standoff at the site, which began
with a small predawn gathering of environmentalists. One bird lover
perched on a branch to keep chain saws away from the tree at the end of
Fiji Way. Later, a pruner's cherrypicker left the scene unused.
Environmentalists and tenants of a nearby building slated for demolition
claimed the warden's decision as a victory. They hope it's the first
step toward protecting the trees year-round and stopping a plan to
replace the aging apartments with a new $130-million luxury complex.
"It shows that citizens can make a difference," said Marcia Hanscom,
executive director of Wetlands Action Network, a group that has fought
other proposed developments close to the coast.
Developer Greg Schem said he hoped that trimming the trees would
encourage the birds to nest elsewhere and allow him to cut down the
trees and proceed with his construction project. Thursday afternoon's
ruling won't stop his plans to demolish the nearby Villa Venetia
apartment complex next year, he said. Schem said he will work out
details with county officials.
Environmentalists say the birds have claimed the trees for at least
three years because they have nowhere else to go. Other nearby trees
were cut down recently, they say.
"I feel this is their last choice," Sierra Club biologist Roy van de
This month, the birds are in their "courtship phase." The male heron
displays spiky white feathers on his chest designed to catch the eye of
a female. He even adjusts his flying posture so that he travels more
slowly, but looks better doing it, biologists say.
While animal wardens decided on the tree-trimming job, one heron stood
in his nest of twigs and grass, facing the mile-long wetland with
apparently unwavering concentration. "His whole objective now is
females," Van de Hoek said.
The Villa Venetia complex sits on a prime piece of waterfront real
estate between the ocean and the Ballona Wetlands. It also attracts
endangered pelicans, hawks and ospreys.
After several hours peering at the heron nests through binoculars and
interviewing ornithologists, state Fish and Game Patrol Lt. Kent W.
Smirl ruled that any tree-trimming would be illegal harassment of the
birds and a misdemeanor violation of state code.
No citations were issued to the developer, but federal Fish and Wildlife
authorities were notified and Schem was ordered to report back to state
authorities with more information on the herons.
The great blue heron is not an endangered bird, but state code prohibits
any "intentional act which disrupts an animal's normal behavior
patterns." It is also illegal, according to state code, to "needlessly
destroy the nest or eggs of any bird."
Screenwriter Robin Hudson has watched the birds nesting from her
third-floor apartment. She can point out every one of the nests in the
40-foot cypress outside her window.
"I've even saved some of [the birds]," she said. "They're so crowded up
there that they knock each other out of the nest."
Schem's consultant, Lee Jones, said he studied the birds for seven
months before concluding that the fledging birds had grown to adulthood
and vacated their nests. As a result, tree-trimming would not harm them,
"We wanted to find the appropriate time when we could encourage them to
go elsewhere," Schem said. "We believe this is the proper time."
If the birds were forced out of the trees by trimming, they probably
would relocate in trees on the Playa del Rey hillsides, Jones said.
"Worst-case scenario," Jones said, "they would go much farther away."
(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is
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WETLANDS ACTION NETWORK
PROTECTING & RESTORING WETLANDS ALONG THE PACIFIC MIGRATORY PATHWAYS
PO Box 1145
Malibu, CA 90265