Work crews cut down an old eucalyptus grove on Petaluma Boulevard South on Sunday evening, much to the disappointment of environmentalists who told Caltrans the trees are used for nesting for egrets and herons and had asked for alternatives.
Caltrans is set to begin work on an interchange project in the area and said that removing the 15 or so trees was needed so that construction was not delayed. Egrets and heron are federally protected, meaning that the trees could not be cut down once the birds started nesting there later this spring.
The trees are located on the parcel owned by Dutra Materials, which wants to build an asphalt plant there.
“Tonight, under the cover of Sunday night darkness, Ghilotti Construction, Caltrans and a tree crew are chain sawing the grove of the heron and egret rookery,” wrote David Keller, a local environmental activist and Sonoma Country Conservation Action board member in an email to supporters.
“It’s disturbing that Caltrans' contractor for the Petaluma Boulevard South interchange would take the added safety risk of dropping these large trees at night. Were they afraid of having the community's presence and witness of this destruction?”
Caltrans representative Robert Haus has said that the agency reviewed various designs and the one selected was deemed environmentally superior. A worker on the site reportedly told a resident that Ghilotti regularly works “after hours.”
According to Bob Dyer, a senior docent for the Petaluma Wetlands Alliance, more than 400 birds have hatched in the eucalyptus trees, visible as drivers exit Highway 101 at Petaluma Boulevard South. Many birders at Shollenberger Park, across the Petaluma River, also enjoyed seeing the birds.
The Alliance, along with the Madrone Audubon Society, have urged Caltrans to plant native trees nearby, such as cottonwoods, but say Caltrans won’t commit to a landscaping plan until all of the construction is done.
“We are very disappointed that this remarkable natural attraction has been lost to poor planning and errant decision making,” Keller said. “What Dutra could not have done for their project, Caltrans has done with impunity under the cover of darkness.”