by Jerome Stocks / Red County / February 3, 2009
OCEANSIDE —- Crews started cutting down more than a dozen trees surrounding the Jolly Roger restaurant at the Oceanside Harbor this week, displacing some birds that had nearly taken over the property and prompting a debate over whether the action was an outrage or a relief.
Twelve eucalyptus and two Torrey pine trees are being removed this week due to what restaurant officials said was a health and safety issue involving excessive amounts of bird feces accumulating in the area.
“The droppings are an inch thick in the summertime,” said Jim Glasgow, chief executive officer of Aloha Restaurant Inc., the company that owns Jolly Roger. “You can’t believe how bad it is.”
Glasgow said the trees that are being removed will be replaced with queen palms. The trees are owned by the city, but the property is leased and under the control of Aloha.
In the meantime, nearly 100 birds including double-crested cormorants, black crown night herons, great blue herons and snowy egrets will have to find new places to roost and lay their eggs.
“They already went over there,” Oceanside resident and boat owner John Rogers said Thursday afternoon, pointing to an area several hundred yards away.
It’s not that simple, according to local bird experts.
Philip Unitt, curator of the San Diego Natural History Museum’s Department of Birds and Mammals, said the great blue heron starts looking for nesting sites at the end of November and builds its nests in early to mid-January.
Herons and egrets typically recycle old nests, gathering sticks and branches to spruce up the large “platform” nests perched high in the trees. It can take them up to two weeks to build a new one.
“They may start laying eggs as early as late January, especially established colonies,” said Unitt. “They’ve been there for quite a while.”
Dennis Huckabay, president of the Buena Vista Audubon Society, said that removing all the nests just one day before nesting season was putting the birds’ fate in question.
“With a little good will and advance warning I’m sure we could have worked out a compromise,” said Huckabay.
But many area boat owners, including Rob Plasse who said he’s been at the harbor since 1999, expressed relief over what they viewed as a long overdue remedy to “blocked afternoon sunshine and a lot of mess.”
Jerry McArdle, whose parents brought him to the harbor over 40 years ago, agreed.
“If this were a natural forest it would be an issue,” said McArdle. “Thirty years ago, there wasn’t a stick of a tree here.”
Glasgow said the restaurant considered alternate measures to keep birds away, such as installing deterrence spikes, but feared they could harm the birds because they’d be hidden in the trees. He also looked into installing speakers that would sounds every 20 minutes to discourage the birds, but concluded that would disturb resident boaters.
Mike Grande, a certified arborist and owner of Vista Tree Service that conducted the removals, said that while he “likes trees better than some people, you have to strike a balance.”
However Michelle Gill, who has lived on a boat in the harbor since 1990, said that she is devastated by the move.
“I want to make sure that there are proper environmental studies,” said Gill. “What gives them the right to destroy beautiful bird habitat just because they don’t like the birds or their mess?”
Former Oceanside City Councilwoman and coastal advocate Shari Mackin has called the removal a travesty and asked the California Coastal Commission to look into how it occurred. Commission Planner Toni Ross said Friday that she had not yet reviewed the situation.
Jim Duncan, manager of the Oceanside Department of Harbor and Beaches, said that Aloha went through all the proper channels and that neither his department nor the property managers of the city’s community development department had any objection.
Frank Quan, maintenance manager for the harbor, said that he made it very clear to Aloha that they had to gain all necessary permission at the state and federal levels before proceeding.
The California Department of Fish and Game could not be reached for comment.
A representative from the federal Fish and Wildlife Service said that they did give verbal assurance to Aloha and Vista Tree Service that they’d be violating no federal restrictions.
According to special agent Lisa Nichols, tree trimming and removal is acceptable as long as no active nests are disturbed. She said that nesting season begins on February 1st each year and runs through October, and that during this time the likelihood of tree trimmers running into eggs or chicks is greatly increased.
Grande said that he and his staff were very careful and found no active nests.
The tree service expected to complete the removal by Friday.