Tag Archive for: KPRC

Contractor Kills, Maims 138 Egrets, Herons While Clearing Land

Multiple Houston-based news outlets reported a story recently about a contractor that killed or maimed 138 egrets and herons protected under the Migratory Species Act. The birds were nesting on a site being cleared by the contractor.

It’s not clear from news coverage whether the contractor was working for a homebuilder or homeowner. While I have done dozens of stories over the years about the environmental impacts of land clearing, i.e., loss of wetlands and wildlife habitat, I can’t remember any this callous.

Summaries of Local News Coverage

KPRC Channel 2

Channel 2 reported that “An investigation has been launched after dozens of migratory birds were discovered injured or dead in an area being used as a breeding ground by the protected species.”

The incident occurred last Friday in the 19700 block of Cherrywood Bend Lane in the Town Lake neighborhood in Cypress. A tree trimming company cut down trees where the birds had built nests. The surviving birds suffered broken wings, mangled legs, and internal injuries.

Texas Parks and Wildlife said the property owner and tree trimming company will be held accountable. “Their fines could add up thousands of dollars, multiple Class C violations, plus the civil restitution,” said Texas Game Warden Jaime Hill.

Egrets and herons are migratory birds protected by state law, in addition to being federally protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). The MBTA protects 1,000 species. Under the MBTA, it is illegal to kill, injure, or capture protected birds.

Houston Chronicle

Houston Chronicle reported that 67 birds were discovered dead and another 71 were rescued by the SPCA’s Wildlife Center of Texas. The story said the non-profit had to euthanize 17 of the injured birds due to the extent their injuries.

A game warden cited the contractor and property owner for violating a statute which protects these non-game birds from being injured or killed, and their nests disturbed or destroyed.

“The issue here is the nests,” said Hill, the game warden. “Before nesting season begins residents can harass the birds so they don’t return.” They can use noise-making devices, fake owls, balloons with eyes on them and even pyrotechnics to try to ward them off, the warden added. “But any harassment must end when the first egg is laid,” she added.

“The birds might be a nuisance,” she said, “but at the end of the day when it comes to their nests and their young, they are protected.”

TPWD conferred with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and agreed to handle the incident at the state level.

KHOU Channel 11

KHOU 11 reported that “Several of the blue herons and great egrets were found alive inside trash bags that also contained dozens of dead birds.”

The Houston SPCA will care for the surviving birds until they can be released back to the wild.

TPWD’s investigation is ongoing.

Personal Commentary

Few waterbirds are more beautiful or graceful than herons and egrets. I have photographed them in the wild for years. My favorite shot is this one, taken years ago, not at the site in question.

I took it moments after the chick hatched out of its egg, as both parents looked on proudly.

Great Egrets and hatchling. I call this photo Proud Parents. © Bob Rehak 2022.

The chicks look gawky and gangly in their nests. As they mature and grow feathers, they walk out on branches and flap their wings to gain strength. Then one day, they release their grip on the branches and take wing to repeat the cycle of life as young adults.

It isn’t until you follow these birds from egg to air, that you can appreciate them as individuals. At moments like the one in the photo above, I see the same emotion that parents of every species feel. Love. Pride. And protectiveness.

But sadly, the egrets are no match for chain saws.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/17/22

1722 Days after Hurricane Harvey

HUD Orders State to Take Over CoH’s Harvey Relief Funds

With Hurricane Delta behind us, now we face a political storm. KPRC Channel 2 News reported earlier this week that the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is putting the State of Texas back in charge of the City of Houston’s $1.3 billion Harvey relief dollars. That wouldn’t happen unless something was seriously wrong with City’s program.

Home destroyed by Harvey and rebuilt by owners/friends. No insurance. And no government help so far.

HUD Eliminates Direct Funding to City

According to KPRC, Acting HUD Assistant Secretary John Gibbs said this “… eliminates direct allocation funding to the City of Houston. The City’s sub-recipient agreement will be terminated, and the funding used for State-run programs to support recovery efforts within the City. The General Land Office (GLO) will administer homeowner assistance, rental, and economic revitalization programs to serve eligible City of Houston residents.”

The switch will not affect whether the $1.3 billion dollars allocated to the City will be distributed, just who will distribute it.

One Home per Week

The state said the City has only been able to address 163 homes to date that Harvey damaged. That’s exactly one per week since the storm. Even considering that the City didn’t get the money immediately, the rate still averages less than two per week.

3+ Years in a Black Hole then a Start Over

I know one family – neighbors – who applied for a grant to help rebuild their home after Harvey. They waited more than 18 months for a call back. When one didn’t come, they called the State’s General Land office, the agency taking over the funds. With a nudge from the GLO, the City finally returned the family’s calls. The City requested more information which the family supplied. Then came another long wait. The case fell into another black hole. The neighbor called two or three times a day, then learned that the lady managing the case was no longer in her job. They had to start over with another case worker. Now it appears they will have to “start over” again – three years after Harvey.

The lengthy wait for help has been doubly disappointing for my neighbors.

Not only were their lives destroyed; now their hopes are dashed.

The family cashed in their kids’ college funds and 401Ks to rebuild their home when help never materialized. Those kids will soon be in high school. And how the family will pay for their college is another source of worry.

The family is still waiting with a shoebox full of receipts and photographs of the damage – for a call that may take years to come.

Unanswered Questions

In trying to figure out why this happened, I talked to several sources familiar with City government. The answers I usually got involved “complex process,” “under-qualified staff,” “set up in a hurry,” and “inadequate supervision,” “contractor issues,” and “lack of accountability.”

One went so far as to predict, “Most of this money will never get to recipients. It will get ground up in overhead.” Meanwhile…

“Many poor families don’t have college funds to tap. Many still live in mold-infested homes without wallboard. Or they’ve just abandoned their homes.”

As I said in 2018 – 276 Days after Harvey – there’s definitely an opportunity for business-process re-engineering here. Simplifying the process will help more people.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/10/2020

1138 Days since Hurricane Harvey