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New rules regarding burrowing owls

By Staff | Aug 16, 2017

New protection rules for burrowing owls could create big problems for city builders who want to do anything from building houses to installing pools. Making matters worse is that the state doesn’t know what those rules are just yet.

That’s what Vince Cautero, Community Development director for the city, told construction industry leaders at the monthly Cape Coral Construction Industry Association meeting at the Palmetto-Pine Country Club last Thursday.

In 2015, the Cape Coral City Council asked the CCCIA and the Florida Wildlife Commission to look at environmental regulations in the community for certain species, such as burrowing owls and gopher tortoises, to find a balance between growth and environment.

Meanwhile, the state was working on a species management plan, which was adopted in early 2017 and will be implemented in December.

Cautero said the new guidelines are difficult to navigate since nothing has been finalized.

Complicating the issue as it relates the burrowing owls is that the FWC has upgraded the bird from “a special concern” to “threatened” effective Jan. 1, which has created the new guidelines and rules.

“Our job is to make sure everyone has that information, that the building industry, real estate community and other homebuilding and environmental organizations are aware of it,” Cautero said.

Among the most significant guidelines is an increase in radius around a nesting area from 10 feet to 33 feet, with the state handling all permitting on a case-by-case basis.

The radius increase can create problems on as many as four properties. And building a house or installing a pool may become more difficult and expensive.

“We’re saying that you really need to tell the state if there’s a presence of burrowing owls nests on your property,” Cautero said.

Cautero showed a diagram of a neighborhood with owl nests. It showed that properties with homes may have problems building other structures because they would be more subject to the rules at 33 feet rather than at 10.

Nests smack dab in the middle of a lot could make it difficult to build on unless you’re willing to pay for mitigation, which can be very expensive, Cautero said.

Another problem is that unlike most species, and because of the way burrowing owls travel, once a nest is built, it is considered inhabited all the time, even if no owls are living there, Cautero said.

The 33-foot regulation would only be in effect during the burrowing owls’ nesting season, which runs from Feb. 18 through July 9. Outside the nesting season, the radius is still 10 feet.

As homebuilding is a major industry in Cape Coral, Cautero hopes the FWC takes that into account when they make the rules that should be fair and rational, and that protect the animal and the property. Any questions the city can’t answer will be referred to the FWC.

“We know a few things that are important. We hope to know more by the end of the year. The state will look at the permits on a case-by-case basis. We’re just making people aware of this the best we can for everyone involved,” Cautero said.