Bradenton Beach Commissioner Ed Straight played dual roles — commissioner and wildlife expert — when he recently surveyed a tree recommended for removal from the right of way at the Annie Silver Community Center.
The public works department, responding to a neighbor’s concern, said a tree-removal company recommended taking out the Cuban laurel because it is dead and a potential storm hazard.
The commission, during a meeting in mid-March, tentatively approved removing the tree and its roots, but asked Straight to investigate.
Straight, in addition to being a first-year commissioner, is the co-operator of Wildlife Inc., a rehab and education center he and wife Gail run from their home just blocks from the community center, which is at 23rd Street and Avenue C.
So Straight investigated, and what he found prompted the city to put any tree removal on hold. Straight said red-bellied woodpeckers may be using the old tree to nest. Removing a tree with nesting birds — any species — is prohibited under federal law.
“I need to go back and confirm more,” said the commissioner, who recently spent about an hour sitting by the tree.
The commission’s tentative vote to remove the tree triggered a series of e-mails among citizens, including members of the community center, about whether the tree is a liability.
“This tree is extremely old and immense,” said Bradenton Beach resident and center member Pat Gentry. “It offers shade and habitat for birds and many other creatures. It gives off oxygen, takes up carbon dioxide and is beautiful beyond description.… In no way is this tree dead, as there is a huge canopy of green leaves right now.”
Mayor Bob Bartelt, responding to the digital discussion, said the assessment was “the tree was at risk to lose large, heavy limbs in a windstorm event. To this end, and to prevent exposure of the city to unnecessary liability risk, the decision was made by the city commission … to remove the tree.”
“Concern was raised at that meeting that there may be fauna living in the tree, as this is nesting season for so many species,” the mayor continued. “So we asked our resident wildlife expert Ed Straight of Wildlife Inc. to assess the tree.”
With Straight’s initial survey, the “removal of the tree was put on hold,” Bartelt said.