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Scrub jay habitat not easy to find

Scrub jay habitat not easy to find

OUR POSITION: We believe there is some merit to Charlotte County Commissioner Tricia Duffy’s idea to couple the acquisition of environmentally sensitive land with mitigation of habitat for scrub jays, gopher tortoises and indigo snakes.

Just the mention of scrub jays elicits a sinking feeling for hundreds of land owners in Charlotte County. About 10,000 property owners have been stymied by the state mandate they must buy lots elsewhere to mitigate the impact of building on their scrub-jay-inhabited property.
For years no one paid much attention to the little birds who like to settle on cleared land €” even preferring land that has been burned by wildfires. But, when the state ruled that land must be preserved for the endangered species €” despite the bird’s seemingly easy adaption to other areas €” it created a huge headache for lot owners whose land was occupied by the jays.
Charlotte County Commissioner Tricia Duffy believes there is one way to give some relief to those homeowners €” sort of like killing two birds with one stone, if you€˜ll pardon the pun.
Charlotte County voters approved the purchase of environmentally sensitive land through a referendum. The program involves a committee set up to recommend areas the county should, or could, buy to keep them safe from development.
Duffy believes some of that land can be used to mitigate lots that are occupied by scrub jays. There are about 135 scrub jay families in Charlotte County and the law requires 25 acres for each one. That means the county needs about 3,300 acres to allow construction to take place on those 10,000 or so lots.
When Duffy voiced her idea to fellow commissioners, Adam Cummings questioned if it is fair to use taxpayer money to mitigate for private lot owners. He has a point. If the county purchases land that can be used for scrub jay mitigation, is that fair to homeowners who have already had to buy lots elsewhere to enable them to build? And, is it fair to other lot owners who, for one reason or another, have to mitigate for their lots?
We believe, since the county is already buying the land for preservation, then it should not be an issue. If the county was buying the land solely for mitigation, then that would be a problem. We see no problem in using land that meets requirements of the environmentally sensitive lands oversight committee for mitigating scrub jay habitat.
The bigger problem, according to Bill Coy, chair of the oversight committee and Andy Stevens, natural resources division manager for Charlotte County, is that most of the land being recommended for purchase by the county will not fit scrub jay standards.
“Most of the land we are recommending has large trees and is just not conducive to scrub jay habitat,€ Coy said.
Stevens agreed, but left the door open when he said portions of land that is being considered could provide a home to scrub jays €” especially after a prescribed burn.
“We can’t offset the impact for 10,000 lot owners, but certain areas might work,€ he said.
If the formula works, we see no reason not to allow some environmentally sensitive land purchases to double as scrub jay habitat.
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