Shawn Guinn, owner of the trees and the school, said as many as 400 snowy egrets and green herons had taken to the trees, showering the school’s playgrounds with guano and creating a health hazard for students and school staff.
“We tried all kinds of stuff, including coming down here late at night and making noise to scare them away, but they keep coming back,” said Guinn, who planted the trees about 30 years ago. Efforts to prune most of the branches also failed to disturb the birds, which just crowded together more tightly. Competition for food led to fights among the birds, some of which would die of their injuries and fall onto school grounds.
“We had an incredible problem, not just for us, but for the city as well,” said Guinn.
The droppings were causing respiratory problems for school workers and students, and required thousands of dollars to clean up, Guinn said. The school’s wildlife sanctuary was being despoiled by the droppings, restricting students’ study of animals and nature.
The removal of the trees, located along the school’s rear fence and a section of the Marsh Creek Trail, triggered outrage among some bird and tree advocates.
“It’s very sad to see such a place destroyed,” Michelle Thomas posted on Facebook, one of numerous comments decrying the action. Criticism came from as far away as England, where one poster said laws protect such trees.
But the trees stand on private property, and removing them was Guinn’s reluctant call to make. “I didn’t want to cut them down,” said Guinn, who was a member of the East Bay Regional Park District Advisory Committee that developed the master plan for the entire Marsh Creek trail system. “If anybody is sick over it, it’s me.”
“I understand the health and safety issues, but it’s unfortunate any time trees like that have to be cut down,” said Director Craig Bronzan of the Brentwood Park and Recreation Department, which manages care for the city’s trees. “It’s unfortunate, but understandable.”
Guinn said he hopes to replace the trees, perhaps with evergreen varieties that won’t lure so many birds. As for the 12-foot-tall stumps, Guinn said he might let vines grow over them, or do “something artistic,” such as carve them. Whatever happens, it will likely involve the school’s students, who have helped beautify the school and nearby areas over the years by planting numerous cuttings as part of their schoolwork.