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Park tree-cutting roils into environmental controversy

By Staff | Aug 15, 2013

The Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife has taken issue with the city regarding the way the city has taken to cleaning up Sirenia Vista Park.

While the city contends it was removing invasive plants so it can plant native ones in hopes that will attract native wildlife in coming years, the CCFW contends the project evicted a family of owls and has shown a disregard to plant life.

Cheryl Anderson, of CCFW, said the project has shown disrespect for the environment, regardless of what species it is.

“It’s easy for people to callously disregard trees. People who run bulldozers look at the tree as something in the way that has to be removed,” Anderson said. “The problem is trees are part of parks. It’s not like it was being cleared to put up houses.”

Steve Pohlman, Parks & Recreation director, said most of the trees taken down are invasive species, and that the city received a grant to remove them.

“Most of what we took down, and there were a lot of them, were Australian pines. It’s an exotic plant that needs to be eradicated over time,” Pohlman said. “We received a grant from the Tourist Development Council beach and shoreline program to improve the shoreline at the park.”

The work involves sloping and grading the banks off the property adjacent to the water, placing cobbles and native plants on the bank, and removing the exotic vegetation, Pohlman said.

The bad news is that, in doing so, the equipment that uproots a tree, might destabilize the soil around the other trees that may not be exotics and could uproot the tree, Pohlman said.

At least two trees that were not slated to come down did, Pohlman said, one of which was a tree the CCFW donated as a gift to LCEC.

Susan Porreca, president of CCFW, said when they learned about the trees cut down, they were very disappointed, especially when they learned one of the trees nested a family of owls.

“One of the Australian pines had a family of great horned owls, and when the tree was torn down it was not inhabited by the owls,” Porreca said. “They won’t have a nice tree to come back to.”

Great horned owls don’t build their own nests. They use nests of other birds or the hollows of trees, according to National Geographic.

Pohlman said he would replace those trees, as well as other trees that the equipment took down, with oaks and olives and other native species.

The hope is that the new trees will grow and, over time, the native habitat will prosper in native surroundings.

“This is an environmental park. We want to be environmentally friendly,” Pohlman said. “There’s a manatee viewing park. They congregate on the east side of the canal in the winter.”

Porreca and Anderson wondered what will happen until then.

“We have a lot of wildlife tours there, and it will take a long time to plant and grow what an owl would live in,” Porreca said. “We’re disappointed.”

“These trees can’t be replaced. You’re not going to put a tree up that’s 30 years old,” Anderson said. “Thirty years from now they might be, but not now. Trees are not dispensable.”