Two demolition workers were spared jail time, but ordered to pay $14,000 in fines and restitution, for uprooting a tree that was home to protected birds - and killing several of them in the process, prosecutors said.
The men, 47-year-old Stephen John Esser of Dana Point and 41-year-old David Roger Stanley of Downey, were working for an engineering company and tasked with cutting down the tree as part of a demolition project in Newport Beach in May of last year, according to the Orange County District Attorney's Office.
When they showed up with an excavator, neighbors pleaded with them to spare the ficus tree, telling the men about the eight or nine bird nests of snowy egrets and black-crowned night herons.
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Prosecutors said the men ignored the pleas and tore down the tree anyway. About a dozen nestlings fell to the ground, and five did not survive. The fully grown birds managed to fly away. Seven chicks found in the rubble were rescued, rehabilitated and eventually released back into the wild.
Esser and Stanley were each convicted and sentenced Wednesday on charges of misdemeanor unlawful possession and destruction of bird nests/eggs and unlawful taking of migratory nongame birds. They were sentenced to three years informal probation and ordered to serve 120 hours of community service and pay $14,000 in fines and restitution.