Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Meeting with UTSW Physical Plant VP

Many thanks for attending last Thursday's meeting with Kirby Vahle, the VP for the UTSW Physical Plant. The minutes are posted at the Audubon Dallas thread.

If you can, please send special thanks to Anna and Betsy of Audubon Dallas (their contact info. is in the above forum). They took the notes at the meeting and spent a good bit of time assembling the minutes.

As you will see, we stuck to our agenda, which focused on proposals for actions to repair the recent damage to the rookery, prevent future damage, and assist the visiting birds. Vahle agreed to:

1. Replace current signs around the Rookery with ones using information about the birds. (HES and AudubonDallas will furnish brief descriptions of visiting species.)

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

3. Call Rogers Wildlife to report distressed birds.

4. Report this meeting to the UTSW President to see if he agrees to issue an apology to the campus (as requested by Peter).

Texas Parks and Wildlife is expected to make recommendations later this week about the rookery.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

New Birds Arriving, Tomorrow's Meeting

Thank you for your communications.

First things first.

After a week of quiet, the birds are looking better. The great egrets are repairing their nests again, as several of you noted. The new arrivals, which had stopped since the disturbances, have picked up again and the number of great egrets has grown to about 300. The smaller birds too are beginning to arrive. I counted eleven little-blue herons yesterday.

The Audubon Dallas thread is gaining steam. Do check it.

Please make every effort to attend tomorrow's meeting. Here are some suggestions that came my way. Bob suggested that an agenda be sent to Vahle so we that we use our time well.
See below.

Item 1 of the agenda

In addition to introducing ourselves, Chalo suggests that we inquire about the experts who advise the university and how they are chosen.

He further suggests that we secure a promise that nothing will be done to the rookery in future without first alerting Audubon.

Item 2 of the agenda

Peter proposes that a water supply be guaranteed to the rookery. This of course assumes that the university would want to nurture the rookery. That is an excellent place from which to start.

Peter also suggests that a transparent "check-and balance system be set in place to protect the birds," such as a regular newsletter from Physical Plant.

Robert thinks that one outcome of the meeting should be "a public statement by the institution (UTSW, not the Physical Plant) of specifically how it plans to handle the rookery long term."

Item 3 of agenda

Several of you support the proposal that a screen be built around the area of the pond. Rogers Wildlife Rehab will advise on this.

Please plan to stick to the agenda and stay focused on the specific actions to be gained from this meeting.

P.S. Based on a conversation with Vahle on Monday afternoon, here is what you might expect (I am paraphrasing here.). He will be shocked by any suggestion that the rookery is being encouraged to crash or that Telfair would want any harm to come to the rookery. He will tell us that Telfair is no longer being consulted because he is retired, and that two individuals from Tyler are. He was unaware of our group. The physical plant was unaware of the presence of the egrets during the recent cuttings and stopped the cuttings as soon as they learned that there were egrets on site. There was nothing unusual about this particular cutting; it is only 1 to 2 trees deep. Based on many years' statistics, the rookery is thriving. (The hour will certainly be taken up with a recitation of the statistics if we allow this.) The egrets have not always been here and first started coming to this area in 1966 when an apartment complex about 1.4 miles away was destroyed. There is no need to alter university policy about the rookery, because a policy of keeping the rookery "undisturbed until deserted" has lasted through three UTSW presidents. To every suggestion of repairs, he will respond that this might harm the birds, and he will try to reassure us that the birds will not be in any way be adversely affected by the recent disturbances.

Message to be sent:
Dear ----------,

Thank you for helping us organize a meeting tomorrow about the rookery. Representatives of the Heron and Egret Society, Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, and Audubon will be in attendance. About 12 individuals have already indicated that they will attend. The actual number might be higher, but probably not more than 25.
In the interest of time, we would like to have the following items to be placed high on the agenda?

(1) An introduction of ourselves and expertise.
(2) A determination of past and future university policy about the rookery.
(3) A discussion on the actions to be taken to repair the recent damage to the rookery and prevent further damage.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Upcoming Meeting with UTSW Physical Plant VP

Please note that there will be a meeting about the rookery this Thursday (12 March) from noon to 1:00 p.m., at the UTSW Physical Plant Building 2nd-Floor Conference Room (Room P2.100). 

This meeting has been organized so that parties interested in the welfare of the rookery (including The Heron and Egret Society and Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation) may meet with Kirby Vahle, the UT Southwestern VP for the Physical Plant.

Please make every effort to attend.

It will be important to use this opportunity productively and not waste an hour
listening to lectures, excuses, etc.

It might be helpful to think of the egrets as the part of us that flies and
approach the meeting with the following aims, i.e. to:
  1. Introduce ourselves and get recognized as a source of expertise about the
    egrets and rookery right here on the campus.
  2. Determine university policy about the rookery and what might be good or
    lacking about it.
  3. Make proposals on how to handle the recent damage and come to some agreement
    with the Physical Plant on the actions to be taken.
Please send suggestions. I will make certain to keep open all lines of communication
between us open right up to the meeting.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

"Management" of "Nuisance" Heronries

The good news

Some support is coming in for the birds. For example, Audubon Dallas has stepped in with a report about the rookery.

The bad news

The expert who is advising the university is a retired biologist who wrote about "Nuisance Heronries in Texas" and how to "manage" them. Beware! In parlance about wildlife, "manage" usually means destroy.

If you don't have time to read this article, here is a snippet:

"Nuisance conditions — where removal of birds might be considered — are subject to federal permit requirements and procedures. The Texas Wildlife Damage Management Service (TWDMS) is the state agency that can assist the public with the proper procedures to apply for a federal permit. After the breeding season, when the birds have left the nesting area, the nests that remain are still under federal protection. To remove these nests, or to modify nesting habitat, you must first apply for a federal permit. If you believe that you may have a nuisance heronry, or would like to modify a site containing nests, contact TWDMS at (210) 472-5451."

So it appears that somebody screwed up by bringing in the chainsaws while there were birds nesting. Is destruction of the rookery in the planning stages? If so, you are doing a great service. An infuriated wildlife rehabilitator, and more recently, somebody from Audubon told me that this sort of chainsawing operation beneath sitting birds is done to drive the birds away with the clear message that their world will be chopped away from beneath them. Indeed, there are downed nests near the memorial garden, below where birds were actually sitting.

Interestingly, this expert is knowledgeable about Texas plants, as I am. One of his sites describes the great value of hackberries and red mulberries.

Most of the hackberries and all of the red mulberries of the rookery were savaged last week. The destruction was so systematic as to make one wonder whether they had been targeted for destruction. These are natives trees of small stature, tough as nails, and long lived. They provide great cover for birds, protection from erosion, and even food for the songbirds. Some of the trees destroyed were quite mature. See the attached photo and count the rings. Another photo shows the depth of the "perimeter" removal.

What the Society can do

Please keep on keepin' on. Our Society is awfully good, though we don't waste time on meetings and other nonsense. We do not have to leave the final word on the rookery to the university's expert.  I expect that I am as knowledgeable about Texas birds and plants but infinitely more caring. I am also not retired. There are others in our group who are knowledgeable about ornithology and ecology. All of us in the Society have direct experience of this specific rookery and its birds. He does not; he is based quite far away. Your suggestions on the rookery matter more.

Please keep up the pressure in every way you can so that the recent damage is repaired. One approach is contact everybody you know who cares about wildlife and ask them to make their opinions on this known. Public disapproval is the major thing shielding the birds and their rookery.