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Thread: Tree removal at UTSW

  1. #21
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    Default Re: Tree removal at UTSW

    Chris, we'll definitely be posting minutes of the meeting!

    On your previous post, I agree that the thickness of the yellow line on the Inwood side and through the shrubbery aisle at the back should be thinner, but I question your repeated use of the term "brush." Do you really consider all those tree stumps to be remnants of brush? I think of brush more in terms of low shrubs and bushes, not trees. (Just checked to be sure -- so does the American Heritage Dictionary online, which defines it as "A dense growth of bushes or shrubs.")

    Janet St. James's report for WFAA includes this quote:

    UT Southwestern officials declined an on-camera interview, but issued this statement:

    "Ground crews at UT Southwestern Medical Center recently removed dead trees and branches outside the egret rookery on campus because the limbs posed a safety hazard. The rookery itself was not disturbed, nor did any trimming take place near the established nesting area. No eggs, nests, or young birds were disturbed and no birds were harmed."
    I'd like to know how trees pose more of a hazard than stumps. No one trips over erect trees -- but they'd certainly be at risk of tripping over all those stumps!

    Moreover, I walked all around the rookery and there were all kinds of trees containing nests that are now right at the edge of the rookery because the trees between them and the lawn were cut down. This assertion that no trimming took place hear the "established nesting area" is not credible, or else it depends on a peculiarly retricted definition of established nesting area. The area you marked as containing nesting birds is only the first area to be occupied, at the very beginning of the nesting season. The "established nesting area," properly defined, includes all the trees that have old nests in them! These nests would normally be refurbished and reused each year.

    In 2004, from March through May, I reported on 13 weekly visits to the UTSW Rookery, which would give you an idea of the order in which the different species arrive and some idea of their numbers. If you're subscribed to texbirds you can search for those posts in the old archives here: http://listserv.uh.edu/cgi-bin/wa?S1=texbirds
    Use UTSW as the search string, in posts by betsy.baker@sbcglobal.net, from March 2004 through May 2004.

    The University has certainly not done a very good job of keeping the signs maintained, I agree.

  2. #22
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    Default Re: Tree removal at UTSW

    You can be sure that what happens at the Meeting tomorrow will be posted on this Forum.

    Anna

  3. #23

    Default Re: Tree removal at UTSW

    Betsy,

    I think it is fair to categorize most of what was removed from most of the perimeter as brush. But, you are absolutely right about trees being removed from around the pond area---some of which were of a fairly significant size.

    And, it is difficult to understand why this was done. It does seem as if a deliberate attempt was made to expose the pond, for whatever reason. The stumps that were left in this area will be a serious impediment to mowing and safety in general. There is no question that this was an ill-advised move on the part of the grounds keepers, for many reasons.

    Further, all the way around the perimeter most of the clearing involved loping the bushes off at just above ground level, leaving stumps of various sizes everywhere. It seems as if it would have made much more sense to trim branches away from the lawn and walking paths rather than cutting down entire bushes at the trunk.

    Despite all this ill-advised work, I just wanted to try and assure everybody that the rookery will survive this. As you can see from the following satellite picture, the rookery absolutely fills with birds over the course of the spring and early summer. Most of these birds will be completely unaffected by the work done to the perimeter of the rookery.



    It is my understanding that rookeries like this one are very difficult to get rid of short of doing something drastic like bulldozing. A typical approach would be to remove all of the underbrush from the entire rookery (not just the perimeter), and remove the existing nests, and then engage in a season long effort to keep the birds driven away with noise makers such as propane canons, etc. Nothing remotely like this has been done at UTSWMC.

    That's why I don't believe the University meant any malice by what took place. If this were an attempt to drive the birds away it will prove to be seriously inadequate.

    Its seems more likely, that given the University's track record of being a reasonable good steward of the rookery since the 1930's, that this was probably just an ill-advised and seriously bungled attempt at routine perimeter maintenance.

    It is my hope that the University comes away from all this acknowledging their mistakes, and with a promise to make ammends (which should include not disturbing the rookery again in anyway until well after the breeding season is over.) It might be wise for them to plan to consult with the Heron and Egret Society before doing any similar work in the future.

    I can't wait to hear how this meeting turns out tomorrow!
    Last edited by DFW Urban Wildlife; 03-12-2009 at 05:18 PM.
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  4. #24
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    Default Re: Tree removal at UTSW

    We'll be posting the outcome of the meeting with UTSWMC as soon as we are sure we have all our "ducks in a row". We want to be sure everything is reported correctly.

    Thanks for your patience.
    Anna

  5. #25
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    Default Re: Tree removal at UTSW

    While we're still waiting on final approval of the minutes (and Yahoo to get my email working again!!!), here's a most interesting viewpoint I discovered on Buzz (by googling) -- a former employee in administration recommends Janet St. James's February 28, 2009 Dallas Morning News article and then gives us his/her idea of the real skinny on the University's position:

    http://tinyurl.com/d8mdpp

    However, it could be that this needs to be taken with a few grains of salt: an article on a different subject altogether in The Dallas Observer
    http://blogs.dallasobserver.com/unfa...weeks_back.php
    reports on the University's assertion that negative comments about outgoing president Kern Wildenthal are attributable to "two predominant sources: One is a former employee, dismissed for fraud, and the second is a faculty member, relieved from his administrative duties but still employed as a tenured professor..."

    Hard to know where the truth lives, sometimes!

    PS: Mr. Wildenthal is no longer the president. He's been replaced by Mr. Podalsky.
    Last edited by betsy; 03-16-2009 at 09:55 PM. Reason: Added the PS.

  6. #26
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    Default The 3.12.09 Meeting Minutes at last!

    Whew! The minutes have finally stewed long enough, all the cooks have stirred the pot several times and we're ready to post them. Voila!

    UTSW Rookery Meeting Minutes 3.12.09

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Attendees:

    UTSW: Kirby Vahle, VP for Physical Plant

    Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation: Kathy Rogers.

    Heron and Egret Society members: Marie-Alda Gilles-Gonzalez, Gonzalo Gonzalez, Valerie Corder, Ruth Dederich, Sarah Lesher-Alfonso, Robert Butsch, Peter Carreon.

    Audubon Society members: Betsy Baker, Anna Palmer.

    Texas Parks & Wildlife: Brett Johnson, Urban Wildlife Biologist for Dallas and areas east, accompanied by Jessica Alderson, Urban Wildlife Biologist for Fort Worth and areas west (who is observing the meeting only) arrive at 12:55, as meeting is nearly over, having been given misleading directions.

    (Nearly all of the bulleted agenda questions were posed by Prof Gilles-Gonzalez, who had requested the meeting on behalf of the Heron & Egret Society, which is what is meant by “we” in the minutes.)

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    • Introductions

    As we are introducing ourselves, Ms. Palmer places a tape recorder in plain view and Mr. Vahle inquires with some asperity if she is taping him. She answers by telling him that she is taping the meeting. He asks her not to and she complies. He characterizes the meeting as being just a casual conversation that doesn’t need taping.

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    • Mr.Vahle is asked to consult with us concerning future Rookery action since we have plenty of expertise about birds and trees.

    He begins by lecturing to us about rescuing birds being illegal. Ms. Rogers corrects him by informing him that rescuing birds is legal if the birds are being transported to a rehabilitation center.

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    • Mr.Vahle is asked what experts he consulted about this “trimming.”

    He mentions several organizations and individuals, including Dr. Ray Telfair of TP&W (whom he admits is retired), Dr. Chris Shook, who trapped and banded fauna there and wrote the results up for the Texas Ornithological Society Bulletin, vol 25, #2, Nov/Dec 1992 (we gathered that the bulletin was what was consulted) and Dr. Warren M. Pulich. Ms. Baker challenges his naming of Dr. Pulich, since Pulich is now infirm [we think] and she asks who was consulted recently. Mr.Vahle admits that the people he cited were consulted 20 years ago, then says Texas Parks and Wildlife and the Audubon Society were consulted this time. He says that an annual report on the rookery is produced by Mr. Scott Clark and submitted to Dr. Brent Ortego of TP&W. He displays a copy of the most recent report, dated June 19, 2008, containing nine years of nest counts per species [a copy is posted following these minutes]. Ms. Baker then asks if they consulted anyone about the recent trimming itself. Mr. Vahle responds no.

    Mr. Vahle says the university doesn’t have a need for the rookery [land] and that Dr. Podalsky (the current UTSW President) told this to Mr. Jay Lorch (current Audubon Dallas president) that on Friday. Mr. Vahle also says that birds didn’t start nesting in the rookery until 1966, after an apartment complex in Sleepy Hollow (about four miles away) was torn down. When pressed for the source of this information he cites Ray Telfair’s PhD dissertation. Ms. Baker shows him the page in Edward A. Kutac’s book Birder’s Guide to Texas, 2nd Edition, where it says “The rookery…has been preserved and protected since 1938 in the shadow of the ever-expanding University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.” He tells us that the University acquired the land as a single parcel in 1955. Ms. Dederich asks about the deed. Mr. Vahle answers that the land was purchased together with other UTSW lands but that he lacks the details. We don’t know how to resolve these date discrepancies. (When Mr. Johnson joins the meeting later on, he says he has been looking into the date issue himself. We decide to leave this to Mr. Johnson.)

    Mr. Vahle admits that February was too late in the season for the grounds crew (which is in his chain of command, although they don’t report to him directly) to have been cutting trees around the rookery – they shouldn’t be doing that any later than mid January. (Peter Carreon asks if this constitutes an official apology, and Mr. Vahle says it does – he’ll apologize to anyone for that.) He says he was unaware that the grounds crew was “trimming” at that time, and that the grounds crew was unaware that the birds were already in residence, because they were working on the opposite side of the rookery from the birds and the birds weren’t flying at the time. Ms. Baker asks what steps he will take to ensure they do not do work like this during the nesting season in future. Mr. Vahle responds only that he has reminded them that they should not. (But see later-in-meeting agreement to notify TP&W before trimming again.) He says they pay a contractor to come and trim all the trees on the campus every five years and gives valid reasons for doing that (but it was their own crew that did this “trimming”).

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    • Mr. Vahle is asked why the brush and trees were considered a hazard?

    Mr. Vahle says that some people had complained about the bushes along the walkway and the grounds maintenance people said the trees were slapping them in the face when they mowed the lawns. The bushes on the Inwood side were trimmed last November. When asked why so many trees had to be cut down, he says they only pushed the boundary back to its original place. We argue about where the boundary lies. Mr. Vahle proffers a polaroid from 1996 (8 years after the last bulldozing) as proof that the pond should be exposed. Prof. Gilles-Gonzalez notes that the perimeter removal went as deep as 30 feet in some places and 20-yr old trees were cut down. Mr. Vahle says that UTSW was ordered to plant trees about 20 years ago after the last bulldozing, and several willows removed from around the pond were replaced then. Ms. Palmer questions the purpose of replacing those trees and then cutting them down 20 years later.

    In the back and forth discussion, Mr. Vahle mentions that there was a one-to-two tree buffer in 1976 and 1988 that still exists. (We are looking into this claim). He volunteers the information that they hired a contractor to bulldoze trees around the rookery’s pond in 1988 and that the contractor a) did it while egrets were actively nesting, b) was supposed to get a permit but didn’t, and c) failed to notify UTSWMC that he hadn’t applied for the permit.

    Mr. Vahle insists that all the recent cutting was done “outside” of the rookery. He offers as a definition of “inside” versus “outside”: the depth of bird feces at the different points around the rookery He argues that no birds nest on the currently exposed edges of the rookery. To this, Mr. Gonzalez replies that we [The Heron and Egret Society] do not measure feces depth because we have a much better measure of nesting activity: the little bobbing heads of the chicks.

    (The issue of a definitive boundary of the rookery is not resolved at this meeting.)

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    • Mr. Vahle is asked if a permit was secured from the US FWS before the February tree cuttings?

    He answers no. When asked why not, he says it wasn’t needed. When asked how he would know that, he says he checked with the US FWS. Ms. Baker and Ms. Palmer tell him this cutting was illegal since the birds were already nesting.

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    • We propose that Rogers Wildlife and Audubon be consulted before any future tree cuttings.

    At the end of the meeting Mr. Vahle agrees always to consult TP&W’s Mr. Johnson from now on before doing any more cutting. He resists our push to consult with Ms. Rogers, but Mr. Johnson says TP&W will consult with Ms. Rogers.

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    • We propose that the University supply water to the rookery in dry periods when birds are nesting.

    Mr. Vahle says that the physical plant already provides water as a policy and will continue to do so. We have not seen this but will hold them to it. The physical plant supervisor will be contacted if a need for water is observed.

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    In answer to Ms. Lesher-Alfonso's questions about what to do with injured birds, and various suggestions to contact the Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation Center when injured birds wander the campus, Mr. Vahle agrees that from now on, for egrets in distress, the policy will be changed from an order to leave the birds alone to instructions to call Rogers Wildlife.

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    • We propose replacement/refurbishment of the ancient & missing Bird Nesting Area / No Trespassing signs.

    Ms. Palmer suggests that the University promote the idea that it is valuing and protecting the rookery by providing educational signs around the rookery, and Ms. Dederich suggests putting something on their website about it. Mr. Vahle receives the sign idea with enthusiasm and agrees to it. New and better signs will be made with warnings to stay out of the rookery, as well images of the various birds and a paragraph about each species. They can use the University’s artists. The Heron & Egret Society has agreed to provide text and data on various bird species that nest or roost there. Audubon [i.e. Ms. Baker and Ms. Palmer] will assist.

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    • We propose remedial measures, such as a screen of shade cloth where the pond has been exposed and replacement of cut trees with ones known to slow erosion and to provide food for birds (since all the mulberry trees were cut down).

    Mr. Vahle categorically refuses to do any replanting or screening. Ms. Rogers says a temporary screen is needed and can be done at a reasonable cost. Later Mr. Vahle relents and says he will do this only if ordered to do so by TP&W.

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    [Off Agenda] A demand for a public apology is made by Mr. Carreon. In answer to Mr. Carreon's calls for an apology, Mr. Vahle apologizes for cutting the trees when he did. Though Mr. Vahle offers to apologize to anyone, he considers his only mistake to be the timing of the tree cuttings, not the removal of the trees per se. (Mr. Vahle tells us that TP&W has advised UTSW that trimming and cutting around the rookery should be performed only from October through mid-January each year.) When pressed by Mr. Carreon for a public apology to the campus, Mr. Vahle answers that the University President might issue a statement to the campus about the rookery if he should see fit. He will report the meeting to the President and the President will make that decision. He mentions the Center Times (a UTSW newspaper under administration control) as a possible venue. A clear statement from UTSW on established policy about the rookery is also needed from the University President to avoid confusion.

    Mr. Vahle tells us that he has worked at UTSW since 1989 and all the presidents he has worked under have said that the rookery is to be protected. That is the wish of the current President, Dr. Podalsky, and it is the wish and duty of Mr. Vahle himself and will be until he is no longer employed at UTSW or the birds quit using it.

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Mr. Johnson and Ms. Alderson, from TP&W, arrive about this point. Mr. Vahle summarizes the actions he has agreed to take:

    1. Will replace current signs around the Rookery with ones using information about the birds.

    2. Will Notify TP&W about any plans to cut/trim around the rookery in future.

    3. Will call Rogers Wildlife to report distressed birds.

    4. Will report this meeting to the UTSW President to see if he agrees to issue an apology to the campus as Mr. Carreon requested.

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    After the meeting adjourns, Mr. Vahle holds a closed-door meeting with Mr. Johnson, after which we take him and Ms. Alderson to see what was done to the rookery and how the pond is exposed. Mr. Johnson tells us that a couple of older trees that were cut down near a culvert could eventually have presented a maintenance issue if their roots had clogged it. We note that the roots were not removed. He also observes that it iss somewhat odd that some dead trees and branches were not removed whereas many living ones were cut down.

    We expect that Mr. Johnson will make the TP&W recommendations to Mr. Vahle some time this week.

    And for those interested in the counts of nesting birds in that report to TP&W last year, here they are:



  7. #27

    Default Re: Tree removal at UTSW

    Absolutely excellent working getting Mr. Vahle to agree to not only replace the perimeter signage, but to update it with information about the birds as well! We will need to to keep a close eye on this to make sure it really happens. Did he offer a timeframe for completion?

    The idea of encouraging the university to put something about the rookery on their website has a tremendous amout of merit as well. Getting the university to acknowledge the rookery as a source of campus pride in such a public and accessible way would probably do as much to protect the rookery in the long term as anything else we could do.

    We should find a way to gently apply pressure to the people in charge of such things at UTSWMC and offer them any assistance we can with information collection, images, etc...

    I hope that Janet St. James with WFAA will do a follow up story making note of the new developments and the promises made by Mr. Vahle.
    Last edited by DFW Urban Wildlife; 03-17-2009 at 12:58 PM.
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    Urban Wildlife.
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  8. #28
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    Default Re: Tree removal at UTSW

    Chris,

    Thank you for the kudos.

    Janet St. James was notified about the minutes on this forum and we'll keep in touch with her about the follow-up.

    We are already working on supplying the information needed for the signage around the Rookery, and will keep nudging them about the other items..

    Regards,
    Anna

  9. #29
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    Default Re: Tree removal at UTSW

    Betsy and Anna,

    Thanks so much for taking your time to be present at the meeting. I would loved to have been a part of this, but due to work , couldn't. From everything I have read (Telfaire's literature & more) a fine for this distruction should definitely be levied. They did not apply for and receive the proper permit, not to mention the birds were already in the nesting process. In fact, it sounds as though they blatantly lied about who they consulted.

    Where does it go from here to make sure that the proper fines are assessed? I would hate to think that this meeting, while productive, is the end of the process. The excuses offered for the extreme trimming were often contradictory, if my tired eyes read everything correctly, and it sounds (I am assuming this) that the school feels that by offering an apology and promising to attend to a few things - all is good.
    Lulu
    Happy Birding!


    Life Birds:449
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  10. #30
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    Default Re: Tree removal at UTSW

    Laura, the laws I've been able to find didn't appear to me to give grounds for a fine. None of the nesting birds are on the endangered list, so the more stringent rules about not disturbing nesting birds don't apply. I can't find anything that interdicts merely disturbing nesting birds, and the evidence of downed nests is small and appears to be limited to ones from previous years (probably by Cattle Egrets) that weren't currently in use.

    To repeat some of my texbirds post on the subject:

    We all have a strong sense that the grounds maintenance crew did a wrong thing and may even have violated a law or two. What troubles me, though, is that I can't find legal wording that prohibits disturbing nesting birds. I can find wording that prohibits disturbing the nests or eggs, etc., but not the nesting birds. These seem to be the relevant sections of Federal and Texas acts/codes:

    Federal=========================================== =========

    Cornell Law School website’s presentation of the US Code for
    PROTECTION OF MIGRATORY GAME AND INSECTIVOROUS BIRDS
    http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/html/uscode16/usc_sup_01_16_10_7.html

    SUBCHAPTER II—MIGRATORY BIRD TREATY
    703. Taking, killing, or possessing migratory birds unlawful
    (a) In general
    Unless and except as permitted by regulations made as hereinafter provided in this subchapter, it shall be unlawful at any time, by any means or in any manner, to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, attempt to take, capture, or kill, possess, offer for sale, sell, offer to barter, barter, offer to purchase, purchase, deliver for shipment, ship, export, import, cause to be shipped, exported, or imported, deliver for transportation, transport or cause to be transported, carry or cause to be carried, or receive for shipment, transportation, carriage, or export, any migratory bird, any part, nest, or eggs of any such bird, or any product, whether or not manufactured, which consists, or is composed in whole or part, of any such bird or any part, nest, or egg thereof, included in the terms of the conventions between the United States and [etc., but nothing about disturbing nesting birds!]

    Texas============================================= ======

    Texas Parks & Wildlife code http://tlo2.tlc.state.tx.us/statutes/pw.toc.htm
    Title 5: Wildlife and Plant Conservation
    Chapter 64: Birds

    Sec. 64.002. PROTECTION OF NONGAME BIRDS. (a) Except as provided by this code, no person may:
    (1) catch, kill, injure, pursue, or possess, dead or alive, or purchase, sell, expose for sale, transport, ship, or receive or deliver for transportation, a bird that is not a game bird;

    (2) possess any part of the plumage, skin, or body of a bird that is not a game bird; or

    (3) disturb or destroy the eggs, nest, or young of a bird that is not a game bird.

    Sec. 64.003. DESTROYING NESTS OR EGGS. No person may destroy or take the nest, eggs, or young of any wild game bird, wild bird, or wild fowl protected by this code except as provided in this code.

    ================================================== ================

    Although these laws clearly demonstrate an intent on the part of lawmakers to protect the efforts of most species of birds to produce more of their kind, the lawmakers somehow failed to take into account the extent to which disrupting the habitat of nesting birds or otherwise disturbing the nesting birds themselves can result in a reduction in that year's nesting success.
    The lack of legal protection is really quite frustrating, especialy since the destruction of coastal breeding habitat by recent hurricanes makes the inland rookeries that much more important.

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