Men Convicted for Cutting Tree with Protected Birds

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Two men were convicted and sentenced this week for cutting down a tree which housed migratory and protected birds, according to authorities.

Stephen John Esser, 47, of Dana Point, and David Roger Stanley, 41, of Downey, each pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of unlawful possession and destruction of bird nests/eggs, and one misdemeanor count of unlawful taking of migratory nongame birds.

They were each sentenced to three years of informal probation, ordered to serve 120 hours of community service in lieu of 15 days in jail, and both defendants were ordered to pay $14,000 in fines and restitution, the Orange County District Attorney’s office reported in a statement released this week.

Last spring, the two were tasked with cutting down a tree on private property adjacent to a sidewalk as part of a complete demolition they were doing for work for Tim Greenleaf Engineering, the OCDA notes in the press release.

Esser and Stanley used a backhoe-type excavation vehicle to cut down a ficus tree around 3:30 p.m. on May 28 that was housing approximately eight or nine bird nests of snowy egrets and black-crowned night herons, stated Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Malone of the Environmental Protection Unit, who prosecuted this case.

Nestlings, baby birds not yet ready to fly, and fledglings, baby birds learning how to fly, were in the nests in the tree, Malone claimed.

Neighbors apparently approached the Esser and Stanley and “pleaded with them not to cut down the tree,” OCDA reported. They told the workers that the tree housed migratory bird nests, but the defendants cut down the tree despite knowing about the birds.

“About 12 nestlings began to fall out of the tree and five that fell to the ground did not survive,” Malone explains in the press release. “The adult birds managed to escape and flew away.”

Amongst the rubble, seven surviving baby birds were found, the OCDA notes in the statement. Neighbors placed the birds in boxes and cages and took them to Wetlands and Wildlife Center in Huntington Beach. After six weeks of care and rehabilitation, the baby birds were released back into the wild.

Bystanders called the police and reported the crime. The Newport Beach Police Department Animal Control Unit investigated this case.

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