A tree trimmer in San Francisco is facing federal criminal charges for injuring several baby night herons as he was pruning trees outside a post office in Oakland, CA.
AGents with the US Fish and Wildlife Service wrapped up their investigation last week, and are sending the case to the office of the US attorney. They will be seeking misdemeanor charges against the tree trimmer – Ernesto Pulido. The charge is that he violated the US Migratory Bird Treaty Act, as he and his crew trimmed trees that had nests in them.
According to the US government, these native birds are protected by federal law. If baby herons are nesting, they should not be harmed or disturbed in anyway. A special agent with the US Fish and Wildlife Service noted that if the crew wanted to trim the trees, they should have come back after nesting season.
If the tree trimmer is convicted, he could face a fine of up to $15,000 and receive six months in jail, according to federal sentencing guidelines. However, the charges in the criminal case are likely to be less because the man expressed remorse and said that he would pay $3000 for the care of the birds.
The incident happened May 3 in downtown Oakland, where a large colony of night herons and egrets began to roost in 2010 in several fiscus trees. Each spring, several hundred of the birds and babies move into the trees; they seem to be lured there by the area’s proximity to a nearby lake and estuary.
The birds are two feet tall and tend to squawk a great deal. They are loved by the residents, but are not liked very much by the US Postal Service. That post office ordered the trimming of the trees because the birds were defecating on the mail delivery trucks.
The post office hired the tree trimming crew to prune the trees, which contained dozens of baby egret nests. Once the crew started to trim the trees, angry witnesses called the police. They reported that several of the babies had fallen on the ground and that their nests were being tossed into a wood chipper. Several volunteers took five baby night herons that were injured to a bird rescue facility in Oakland. They currently are being treated for fractures and bruises.
The federal investigation determined that none of the birds died in the chipper, but birds were injured and nests were ruined.
The tree trimmer recently visited the birds as they are recovering in the rescue facility, and he is starting to pay for their care.
Meanwhile, one woman on the city council wants to penalize the post office for violating tree trimming guidelines in Oakland. The city requires that it receive advance notice of any planning tree trimming.
The city also is taking more steps to ensure the safety of the heron rookery. The public works agency in Oakland is going to install educational displays or panels that tell passersby about the birds, as well as about eh Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Animal activists also are meeting with several members of the Oakland City Council to discuss more protections for the egret and night heron colonies in the area. One of the possibilities is that the Audubon Society will station docents downtown to provide education to pedestrians about the birds. They also may install hay bales to prevent injury to babies that fall out of the nexts. Also, they could put cones or fencing around the trees when the birds are nesting.