Coastal Commission cites Long Beach for illegal tree trimming that destroyed heron nests

The California Coastal Commission has cited Long Beach for an illegal tree trimming project along the Peninsula last week that destroyed several great blue heron nests and killed at least one fledgling during nesting season.

The commission’s enforcement devision launched an investigation after residents on May 6 saw workers from West Coast Arborists trimming the 70-foot-tall palm trees in the median along Ocean Boulevard, which has become a popular spot for federally protected great blue herons to raise their fledglings in May.

Under its Coastal Commission permit, the city is only allowed to trim trees from October to December to avoid disrupting nesting birds. Long Beach Public Works Director Craig Beck has said the city is investigating how and why the project was approved.

In a letter to Beck on Monday, Coastal Commission Enforcement Officer Jordan Sanchez said the agency is concerned over the city’s history of unpermitted tree trimming.

“As you know, within the last three years, several instances of unpermitted tree trimming and tree removal activities have occurred within the City, and our staff is very concerned about these practices,” Sanchez wrote. “Therefore, we would hope to resolve this as quickly as possible, including putting some immediate measures in place, and coming to agreement about longer term steps that can both help address the losses and avoid future occurrences.”

Beck on Wednesday said the city is taking the incident very seriously and is working on a full report to provide to the commission.

Sanchez said approximately 86 palm trees along Ocean Boulevard between Glendora Avenue and 72nd Place were trimmed last week during the bird nesting season, resulting in multiple violations under the California Coastal Act, which protects coastal habitats.

The letter notes that the city is preparing a report to document exactly how many nests were removed and how many great blue herons were killed.

Residents last week said they found one dead fledgling under a tree that had been previously pointed out to tree trimmers as having a nest. They said workers went on to trim anyway.

A dead fledgling lies on the ground after illegal tree trimming on the Peninsula Wednesday. Photo credit: Rachel Rue

Great blue herons are protected by the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which prohibits the killing of any migratory birds except as permitted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The letter notes that the great blue heron colony in Alamitos Bay is one of the few established heron nesting colonies in Southern California and provides critical support for the region’s heron populations.

The city has since halted all tree trimming in the area.

Coastal Act violations can result in fines of up to $30,000. The city is working with the commission to resolve the violations and must develop a plan to ensure the nests will be protected in the future, according to the letter.

The city could address any monetary penalties by undertaking mitigation projects, such as installing heron nesting platforms in Alamitos Bay, planting of more mature Mexican fan palms around the bay and paying donations to local conservation groups. 

Residents said they were able to save many nests, as the city was planning to have crews come back last week Thursday to trim trees on the side streets. 

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Kelly Puente is an award-winning general assignment and special projects reporter at the Long Beach Post. She has worked as a journalist in Long Beach since 2006, covering everything from education and crime to courts and breaking news. Kelly previously worked at the Long Beach Press-Telegram and the Orange County Register before joining the Post in 2018. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public policy and administration at Cal State Long Beach. Reach her at [email protected].