Marco Island proposes homeowner incentive to protect burrowing owls

Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Published: Updated:
FILE: Burrowing owls in Cape Coral. (Credit: WINK News/FILE)
FILE: Burrowing owls in Cape Coral. (Credit: WINK News/FILE)

A new proposal in a Collier County city encourages people to help protect feathery creatures that live near all of us in Southwest Florida.

The City of Marco Island has a proposal to set aside money that will help prevent people from harming burrowing owls.

“We’re penalizing bad behavior,” Councilor Jared Grifoni said. “But let’s look at the other side of it. Let’s encourage good behavior.”

As more development is constructed in the area, there won’t be any empty lots for burrowing owls to live. The city’s new proposal involves an incentive to encourage Marco homeowners to attract the owls to their lawns.

“It’s really nice to see them around here,” homeowner Marissa Polanco said. “I think we actually have tourists who come around and look for them.”

The city will pay homeowners who show signs of positive treatment toward owls that live on their property.

“Rather than just focus on penalties and enforcement, let’s do the other to encourage good behavior,” Grifoni said. “And to reward it when people do take that extra initiative to get something good done for the community as a whole.”

Homeowners would get paid to create a habitat for this threatened and protected species.

“These owls generally live on vacant lots,” said Policy Director Brad Cornell with Audubon of Western Everglades. “And there’s only about 20 percent of Marco Island left that has vacant lots, and it’s building quickly.”

The Audobon organization will build what’s called a starter burrow for homeowners who volunteer their property through the city incentive.

“That starter burrow maintains an owl and hatchlings and eggs,” Cornell said. “So this will encourage citizens to get involved and to create more open space for a threatened species that frankly loses habitat every day as more land gets developed.”

If burrowing owls begin to appear at homeowner’s property, they can apply for the grant money with the city.

The city council voted unanimously 7-0 to discuss the proposal further, starting with allocating $5,000 for the program annually. This will eventually need to be created into an ordinance brought before the council to then also be approved.

“Now they’ll be able to use this grant to maybe create a second one,” Grifoni said. “Or offset some for the permitting fees that go along with having a burrow on your property if you want to develop it later on, so it can help on both sides of it.”

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