NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. – Two men were convicted and sentenced today for cutting down a tree which housed migratory and protected birds. Stephen John Esser, 47, Dana Point, and David Roger Stanley, 41, 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.
At the time of the crime, Esser and Stanley worked at Tim Greenleaf Engineering. The defendants were tasked with cutting down a tree on private property adjacent to a sidewalk as part of a complete demolition.
At about 3:30 p.m. on May 28, 2015, Esser and Stanley used a backhoe-type excavation vehicle to cut down a ficus tree that was housing approximately eight or nine bird nests of snowy egrets and black-crowned night herons. The nests had nestlings, baby birds not yet ready to fly, and fledglings, baby birds learning how to fly. During that time, neighbors approached the defendants and pleaded with them not to cut down the tree and informed Esser and Stanley that the tree had migratory bird nests. The defendants proceeded to cut down the tree knowing there were birds living in the tree. About 12 nestlings began to fall out of the tree and five that fell to the ground did not survive. The adult birds managed to escape and flew away.
Bystanders called the police and reported the crime. The Newport Beach Police Department Animal Control Unit investigated this case.
The seven baby birds that survived were found amidst the rubble, placed in boxes and cages by the neighbors, and taken to Wetlands and Wildlife Center in Huntington Beach. After six weeks of care and rehabilitation, the baby birds were released back into the wild.
Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Malone of the Environmental Protection Unit prosecuted this case.
Orange County District Attorney / Case # 15HM07053 / April 20, 2016