Tree protesters pin hopes on owls | RecordCourier.com

Tree protesters pin hopes on owls

by Susie Vasquez

Owls nesting in the old Stodick Ranch trees are still nurturing their young and disturbing the process is a violation of the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, said Nancee Goldwater, wildlife rehabilitation specialist and employee at Douglas County Animal Control.

The old Gardnerville ranch site, which includes several outbuildings and a grove of cottonwoods, is scheduled for removal to make way for Stodick Estates, a new housing development. H&S Construction is developing the site.

“The owls are a federally protected species,” she said. “We’re hoping H&S Construction can be stopped from harming the trees and the birds.”

The young owls, or “downies,” require two months of nurturing before they are mature enough to cope with life in the wild. If these birds are forced into rehabilitation, the lag time is significant, Goldwater said.

“If they cut those trees down, the offspring will have to be taken away from the adults,” she said. “That hampers their development.”

Some of the trees are about 100 years old and provide habitat for many hawks and owls, Goldwater said.

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Kevin Kritz, a wildlife biologist with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, said he received a complaint and called Ed Dominguez, a law enforcement officer with the U.S. Wildlife Department.

Dominguez is based in Las Vegas.

“If the land was cleared during the nesting season, there probably was a violation,” Kritz said. “The problem is lack of evidence.”

He said the migratory bird treaty act applies to both public and private lands. The nesting window has passed, but some birds will re-nest if their first efforts fail.

“It’s regrettable, that these birds are losing their habitat, but there are limits to our authority,” he said. “If the incident occurs late in the year and there’s no prior evidence of damage to the birds, there isn’t much law enforcement people can do.”

About 90 percent of Northern Nevada’s birds are migratory and therefore protected by the act, Kritz said.

Goldwater said a spokesperson from H&S called her to determine what could be done to minimize damage to the habitat H&S officials wanted to do the right thing, as long as it didn’t seriously impact their plans.

The company did not return any phone calls before deadline for this story.

Removal of the trees has caused a stir among long-time residents and newcomers alike. Lura Morrison is fourth generation, a lifelong Douglas County resident.

“I grew up with the Stodick kids,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking, to see what’s going on in the valley. The only thing left is the mountains. Growth is tearing everything else out.

“The next thing they’ll do is take out all the old buildings, like the creamery,” she said. “Nothing will be left in the Valley but development.”

Barbara Havens, a Minden resident for 11 months, presented a petition objecting to the removal of the trees at Thursday’s county commissioner meeting. Addressed to H&S Construction, the petition bore 278 signatures gathered since the effort began about a week ago.

Estabrook Tree Works has been contracted for the removal but no date has been set for the project, an Estabrook spokeswoman said.

— Susie Vasquez can be reached at svasquez@recordcourier.com or 782-5121, ext. 213.