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Property Rights and Wrongs

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Grass Valley. Spring. As I gazed out the kitchen window, I noted a huge derrick jutting skyward next to a Great Blue Heron rookery neighbors claim had been there for at least 30 years. I stared at the intrusion lurking between the huge gray pines that house a dozen nests of the great birds.

By the time the building department investigated, a road had been excavated, graveled, a well dug, and a pad cut directly adjacent to the rookery -- -all without permits. No erosion control, no drainage planned for. "We do not levy fines," the inspector said, which left me with the fond hope that the herons levied fines of their own, depositing semi-digested fish parts on a few select heads.

This is private land, 12.5 acres of it. Owning property housing such magnificent birds seems a gift, and with that gift comes the obligation to protect, not destroy. Was there not another suitable building site on 12.5 acres? The house in question was built on spec, the asking price higher than anything in the area.

Great Blue Herons fly from as far as 30 miles away in order to roost in the same trees year after year. According to an ornithologist at the Audubon Canyon Ranch in Stinson Beach, herons are shy birds that resent human intrusion and may abandon nests if threatened.

The Wild Bird Conservation Act, The California Species of Concern list, protect birds such as the heron. The powers that be can slap hands, but it takes a genuine desire to live in harmony with the wildlife in our midst. It takes risking another person's wrath, for sadly there are too many who honor the holy dollar, but not the holy.


If only words were strong enough to bring to light the assaults the land sustains at the hands of some. Birds, too, have property rights. They may not pay taxes, though they fill us with wonder, and the delight they give is payment of another sort. Is it not our responsibility to act in ways that honor their existence?

In sad air, the question hovers.

With a Perspective, this is Judie Rae.

Judie Rae lives in Nevada City and despite heft fines and new permits required of the developer, the herons never returned.

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