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Owl ‘eviction’ plan appealed

By Staff | Feb 6, 2020

A Cape resident is appealing a Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission decision that gives the city of Cape Coral permission to remove a burrowing owl nest from a downtown park where the city holds one of its biggest events each year.

Christopher Specht is disputing the permit the FWC granted the city to “evict” the owls from Bernice Braden Park near the Cape Coral Bridge. He said in the complaint that he watches and photographs the owls regularly near his home.

An FWC official was informed prior to the decision that there was an “allegation of purgery and misrepresentations” but issued the permit to allow the nest to be filled anyway, he alleges. Among them was the usage of the park, where Forth of July fireworks are launched as part of Red White& BOOM!

“They did a lot of embellishments and out-and-out lies, especially that they do many public functions there. I have a Freedom of Information Request that says they have no public functions there from now until 2025,” Specht said. “I’ve lived here 20 years, and besides Red, White & BOOM!, there has never been another.”

Specht also alleges the city used approximate locations of the nests and not the actual coordinates and that the city has claimed to have tried everything they could to work around the owls, but failed.

“All we have to do is erect an eight-foot police line there. The owls, if disturbed, will either retreat into the burrow or fly away and come back two days later like they did last year,” Specht said. “This time if we do it, we won’t have destroyed their home.”

The city will be allowed to “non-lethally ‘harass’ owls by flushing them away from the burrow, inserting a burrow-video scope into the burrow, excavating and filling an inactive burrow, and possibly disturbing owls by working within a distance of 33 feet of an active burrow, containing eggs and/or flightless young, without collapsing the nest burrow,” according to the permit.

In return, the city will have to construct two starter burrows at Jaycee Park in an open area. The permit is for three years and up to 10 burrow clusters

The action faced scrutiny during Monday’s City Council meeting and, on Tuesday, the request to challenge the decision was filed by the FWC.

Resident Carl Veaux said Monday the owls should stay where they are and that there are many owls on the parade route to Bike Nights that have survived for years, along with Red, White & BOOM!.

“Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife will protect them during Red, White & BOOM! and that’s the only time they need it because that’s all that’s there,” Veaux said.

Michael Ilczyzyn, with Public Works, said he and all parties had a conference call and went through a risk analysis on the matter. He said it’s in the city’s best interests to safely relocate the owls.

“If we disturb 50 percent or more of the property of the owl, that’s considered a take. We’re planning on improved landscaping, putting in sidewalks, hardscapes and that all impacts the owls’ foraging habitat area,” Ilczyzyn said. “There’s also Red, White & BOOM! We can move the stages and tents, but may need an emergency vehicle to respond to a heart attack, or there’s an explosion with the fireworks or some mass exodus or a drunk starts to harass the owls. Unless you build a castle around them, there are things you cannot protect against.”

Ilczyzyn said they collapsed the burrow last year for the event, but the owls came back, either on their own or because someone built a starter burrow.