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Scrub jay mitigation plan decision delayed

By Staff | Apr 4, 2011

It’s still unclear what direction City Council will take in a proposed Florida scrub jay habitat mitigation plan that carries a price tag of nearly $800,000, yet some on the dais fear that no action will put the city on the hook for millions of dollars to protect the bird, which is listed a threatened species.
Council put off making the decision until May, hoping to tweak the language of an incidental take permit and to find out if Conservation 20/20 funds could be available to the city to help offset the cost.
Councilmember Bill Deile, who jokingly said Florida scrub jays “taste like chicken,” wants Lee County to “loosen up” money tit has set aside for habitat conservation.
“We’ve been contributing to the 20/20 fund against our will. We were forced into it,” Deile said. “Our mission here is to lobby with the Board of County Commissioners to get them to step up to the plate … the city is being told to go away when we have a need.”
Should council reject the mitigation plan — which calls for purchasing and maintaining land in a scrub jay habitat in Alva — it has three other options at its disposal:
Council can purchase and plant scrub oaks in Festival Park, turning a portion of the park where the birds reside into a scrub jay habitat at a cost of more than $1 million; it can purchase land through the Florida scrub jay compensatory fund at a cost of $8 million; or it can simply do nothing, and hope the birds find somewhere else to call home.
Councilmember Marty McClain doesn’t think the last option is very likely, as he said the birds have lived there for “five or six years.”
Should the city inter into the interlocal agreement with Lee County and adopt the mitigation plan, the take permit is good for the entire city, not just Festival Park. McClain feels that the only realistic option.
“There are 100 things that can happen here and 99 of them aren’t good,” he said.
Mayor John Sullivan equated the situation to “having a $800,000 gun to your head,” saying the city just asked employees to take a wage cut, but is spending money on saving birds.
He said council doesn’t have enough information to make a decision, and he wants to know what will happen if the birds are simply left alone.
“I don’t think people understand what kind of contradiction this really is,” Sullivan said. “We’ve asked city employees to take cuts — and how do we justify it, how do we maintain our credibility by spending that on scrub jays?”