By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
ASHLAND, Neb. — Larry Vierregger and his 11-year-old son love spending as much time as possible at their lakeside cabin near here in the summer.
But this summer, life in the idyllic lakeside community of about 50 was interrupted by the sound of chainsaws in July, when the city of Lincoln came for the trees.
Lincoln owns land about 30 miles away, along the Platte River, because it gets its water from well fields in the river bottoms. Lincoln owns much of the land on the other side of a fence that rings the lakeside community of Willow Point, and the two co-existed peacefully until the city began cutting down big trees this summer — many of them 100-year-old Cottonwoods.
The little forest across the road from Vierregger’s house is mostly gone now, with just raggedy stumps left behind.
“It looks like a tornado went through here,” Vierregger said. “I can’t imagine what all wildlife they disturbed when they did this.”
Turns out, the wildlife they disturbed prompted an investigation and fines by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
Lincoln Public Works Director Miki Esposito said the city hired a contractor to cut down the biggest trees to protect “well field assets” and promote grass growth, which helps prevent soil erosion during flooding. Big trees provide big shade, which makes it hard to grow grass.
Vierregger, an Omaha electrician, is one of several people who complained about the tree massacre to Joel Jorgensen, non-game bird program manager for Nebraska Game and Parks. Jorgensen said the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act prohibits the destruction of migratory birds’ nests, and there’s a rookery of great blue herons in the area.
“My understanding of the situation is that it appears to me that they were probably unaware of the situation,” Jorgensen said of the pallet company that cut down the trees.
Mike George, state supervisor for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, said cutting down trees isn’t a violation, unless nests were destroyed in the process. His office recommends not cutting trees down between April 15 and Aug. 1, unless a nest survey is done first.
“If they had contacted us, we’d have said … do it after Aug. 1,” George said. “We wouldn’t comment on whether it was smart.”
Esposito confirmed that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service investigated a report of a harvested tree with a blue heron nest, and the city’s contractor was issued a citation and paid a fine.
“The contractor is responsible for making sure there are no migratory bird nests in the trees,” Esposito said via email. “Unfortunately, they failed to do so and were assessed the fine.”
Vierregger just wishes the city would plant new trees to replace those that were chopped down.
“It’s their property,” he said. “I realize you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.”
Contact Deena Winter at [email protected].
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