The City’s planned project to trim the eucalyptus trees at Depot Park was called off Monday morning after the discovery of a nesting acorn woodpecker in one of the trees near the bocce-petanque courts, and a Great Horned owl nest in another.
The tree trimming was originally supposed to include all 23 blue gum eucalyptus in the park area, including the six along First Street West. Those trees are of particular interest to the City as they are implicated in flooding along Fryer Creek and recommended for removal by the Sonoma County Water Agency as a component of their flooding solution.
Sonoma City Councilmember Gary Edwards said he checked with local ornithologist Tom Rusert several months ago about the plan to remove those trees. “I know his love of birding, in fact he taught my kids birding,” said Edwards. “We want to make sure that any trimming happens outside the nesting season.”
But April is within that nesting season range, and the city’s plan to trim and top the Depot Park eucalyptus raised some eyebrows. Rusert said he contacted Mayor Laurie Gallian, who then contacted Public Works Director Dan Takasugi, who then called Rusert and invited him to come to Depot Park on Monday morning.
Under city contract, biologist Trish Tatarian of Wildlife Research Associates in Santa Rosa, surveyed the contracted trees on the morning of April 7, and reported to Takasugi she observed American kestrel nesting behavior in the six trees along First Street West.
“No other bird nesting or bat presence was observed at that time,” said Takasugi, echoing the words of the report – but visitors to Depot Park were well aware of the presence of the owls, who often called to one another in the early morning and late afternoon hours.
“They’ve been chorusing back and forth with each other every night around 7 o’clock,” said Rusert. “All the baseball people know, all the townspeople know, everybody’s pointing out those birds to us.”
The trimming and topping was scheduled due to the presumed “safety hazard these trees pose to the users of the park,” according to a City press release dated April 7. Takasugi clarified the City had been urged by its insurance carrier in November to take care of the trees. “The arborist report mentioned that these conditions need to be mitigated to reduce the chances of large limb or trunk failure occurring into or onto the actively used park facilities and the users below them.”
The proposal was to shorten the 50- to 60-foot high trees to between 20 and 25 feet, and drastically reduce the “multiple co-dominant leaders forming in their lower trunk sections.” This would have had a dramatic effect on the visual landscape and the “shadescape” of the park, though the risk of personal injury had to be considered as well.
But when the trimming started Monday morning, a number of neighborhood naturalists including Rusert were on hand to monitor the work, and to let the tree-trimmers know about the owls.
“Four guys are up in the trees, limbs are coming down, chippers are going to beat hell, and I show up. Then Dan shows up. Then Trish shows up. Then the birders show up,” said Rusert, recalling the action Monday morning at the park.