Marco Council to look into program incentivizing starter burrows for owls

Devan Patel
Marco Eagle
Pair of adult burrowing owls

Months after stiffening the penalties for its endangered species protection ordinance, the Marco Island City Council may explore a pilot program of sorts that would provide grants to individual property owners that put in and maintain starter burrows for burrowing owls.

The proposal brought forth by Councilor Jared Grifoni called for the city to budget $5,000 towards the program, which would reward good behavior.

“Rather than coming down on a citizen, it’ll show that if people do the right thing, it is recognized as well and welcomed,” Grifoni said.

As part of Grifoni’s proposal, property owners that take part would get a percentage of what the city budgeted for the program, which they could use to defer any costs or fees for participating.

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In January, the City Council approved increasing the protection zones for endangered species as well as the minimum fines for offenses.

Previously, offenders could be fined up to $500 but in some cases, the magistrate chose to only dole out $1 fines.

At that time of passing the increased protections for endangered species, Grifoni spoke of looking into ways to incentivize good behavior as a way of promoting compliance.

The burrows themselves would be set up by the Audubon Society of the Western Everglades.

“I think it’s a great idea in terms of looking for positive ways to incentivize landowners to help stabilize the population of burrowing owls on Marco Island,” Brad Cornell, of the Audubon Society, said.

While supportive of the concept, Councilor Howard Reed raised some concerns about a safe harbor agreement that would waive penalties for removing a burrow after five years.

Reed said that the duration was too long and if there were penalties, it may inhibit someone from taking part in the program.

“I think we need to make sure people aren’t signing up for more than they can promise,” Reed said.

Councilor Charlette Roman also opined whether a discussion about the program was better suited during the budget cycle.

With the Council in agreement that more details needed to be fleshed out, it greenlighted for the program to be investigated with the help of the city’s Beach and Coastal Resources Advisory Committee.

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