A stand of eucalyptus trees used as nesting habitat by egrets and herons along the Petaluma River was felled Sunday night, worrying birders and environmentalists about the birds’ future.
The work, planned for several years, is part of a Caltrans project to reconstruct the Highway 101-Petaluma Boulevard South interchange and widen the highway along that stretch.
David Keller of the Petaluma River Council snapped photos of construction crews working under floodlights Sunday evening, cutting down the 50- to 80-foot trees across from Shollenberger Park.
He found it suspicious that construction crews would conduct the dangerous work at night.
Safety was indeed an issue, said James Cameron, a deputy director at the Sonoma County Transportation Authority, which coordinates local transportation projects.
“I can’t blame them for that perception,” he said. “We did expect to have a lot of people looking at these trees. If we were to have bunches of people pull over on that off-ramp off Highway 101, it could be a safety issue” for drivers.
Bird lovers from several local Audubon Societies met multiple times with Caltrans during the planning process for the interchange project. Environmental documents were finalized in 2009.
Cameron said there were eight active egret and heron nests last year in the rookery. The previous two years, the presence of a red-tailed hawk forced the birds to nest elsewhere.