Pepper tree removal at the Oaks Club on hold

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OSPREY, Fla. - The ongoing dispute over the removal of invasive trees at an exclusive golfing community continues.  The controversy is surrounding the thousands of birds which call that area home.

Now the debate is on hold yet again.  But this time it isn't because of activists or even wildlife officials.

A sight to behold at the Oaks Club is now the white egret collecting materials for its nest.  And, while the actions may seem unimportant, it has successfully ended the ongoing pepper tree removal dispute at the Oaks Club.

"The birds have sort of saved themselves, because it is illegal to disturb active bird nesting," said Beverly Meadows, a resident at the Oak Club.

And the nesting came just in time, because the Cease and Desist order issued last month that stopped the tree removal was revoked Friday, which meant crews would have been back out Monday.

"I feel exceptionally relieved this will give us a little more space a little more time to figure out how to save this rookery," said Meadows.

The Oaks Club was in the process of removing 90 percent of the foliage on one of two islands that make up the bird rookery in the gated community.  The goal was to remove an invasive species of pepper trees, a measure many say was necessary to decrease the number of birds living on the island.  But, those opposing the removal say cutting down the trees would have caused more harm than good.

"This rookery is so important to all of Southwest Florida --  not just to people in the Oaks Club like myself, but to all of the the people in Southwest Florida, because this is one of the active, if not the most active rookery here," said Meadows.

According to Meadows, about 60% of the trees have already been removed and the number of birds nesting on the island is fewer than in previous years.  But the fact that there are nests is enough to stop more cutting until December.

"There permit does work all the way to December, so if sometime in that month they find that there are no active birds nests, and no flightless birds, then at that point they will have the right to continue to take down the island," said Meadows.

Although the removal has been put on hold, Beverly says she will be working to see what can be done to protect the bird habitat when the nesting period is over.