Story Tools

Date of Issue: July 26, 2007

No charges filed in tree-cutting complaint

State law enforcement officials declined to recommend charges after investigating an allegation that Manatee County destroyed “active” night heron nests while removing Australian pine trees at Coquina Beach.

The allegation was made in an official complaint lodged by Holmes Beach resident Barbara Hines with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Hines, who visits Coquina Beach regularly, filed the complaint in June. She said she saw nesting activity in the Australian pines and alleged that as many as 30 nests were destroyed when the trees came down in mid-May.

Hines, according to the complaint, asked workers from the county parks and recreation department to stop cutting the trees because they contained “active” nests, which indicates nests containing eggs or baby birds.

Another witness told the state that she saw what could have been bird eggs on the ground at Coquina on a day that some Australian pine trees were cut.

County officials, however, said trees with active bird or squirrel nests at the south end of Coquina were not removed in the project, which was done with appropriate permits from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

“There will be no charges against the county,” said Lt. Michael Frantz, an investigator with the FWC’s law enforcement division based in Fort Myers.

Frantz said he investigated the complaint by interviewing witnesses, going to Coquina Beach and talking with county officials.

“It’s a sad story,” Frantz said, adding that he felt for Hines, who possibly could have collected evidence if she’d been allowed access to the work site.

Without physical evidence, Frantz said, he could not proceed with a case. “I need a bird or an egg,” Frantz said. “I don’t have that.”

Frantz said in his interview with a county representative, he was told that 90 trees had been designated to be cut but only 60 were taken down because the others contained nests.