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Heron nests destroyed at proposed development site

Land containing dozens of great blue heron nests is targeted for development and subject of ongoing litigation.

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Trees lay felled on property owned by Steve Connelly in Rochester Township March 6, 2022. Some of the trees contained great blue heron nests which was a source of contention and litigation as Connelly works to sell the property to a developer to build housing. Neighbors and members of the community oppose the plan saying it would destroy a great blue heron nest colony.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — About half of the great blue heron nests at the site of a proposed development west of Rochester have been destroyed.

Trees on land in Rochester Township at the center of a legal battle between neighboring property owners and proponents for preserving the nests were cut down sometime between Thursday and Sunday, neighboring property owners said Sunday.

Tim Parkin, who owns property adjoining the development site, pointed to felled trees in the nest colony, what is known as a rookery. The plan by International Properties LLC calls for 10 homes and a northward extension of Boulder Creek Lane Southwest to be built on the 17-acre site containing many of the dozens of nests.

Trees that contained heron nests on property owned by Steve Connelly, where International Properties LLC, owned by Aderonke Mordi, proposes to build the housing development, had been marked with pink ribbon. Several of the trunks piled on the property still had ribbon and the overhead canopy of heron nests had a gap, Parkin pointed out.

“Those clearly had had heron nests in them,” he said. “We believe this to be a deliberate act to get these trees removed before the herons return and start fledging or laying eggs and preparing to raise little ones.”

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Tim Parkin points to trees containing great blue heron nests on his property in Rochester Township March 6, 2022.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin

In court filings, wildlife enthusiasts including Carrol Henderson, founder of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' nongame wildlife program, say the rookery is unique because it is in an upland forest and not located adjacent to a major body of water.

About 25 nests from the previous three to four dozen remain.

Parkin is also a co-founder of the nonprofit group, Save the Rookery. Parkin and the group have filed suits to halt the development. The first suit was filed in March last year when neighbors learned of development plans and filed an injunction against Connely and International Properties LLC. A temporary restraining order in that case was overturned but work was halted because the nests were occupied by birds by the time the court decision was rendered. Nests that are occupied by herons are protected by federal and international law under the migratory bird treaty act.

Parkin said the timing of the tree removal appears to be deliberate before the nests are occupied and again protected.

Another pair of lawsuits, filed in October and November last year, challenge the Rochester Township Board’s decisions not to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement of the site and the board’s acceptance of a general development plan in November.

Members of Save the Rookery discovered the trees were cut down after checking on nest cameras set up on some of the nests. The solar-powered cameras were set up in the last few weeks to give people live looks at the nests once the herons return.

Parkin said the Save the Rookery group had hoped to purchase the land and set it aside as a scientific natural area. He said that looks less likely now that several trees have been cut down.

Heron nests destroyed Parkin 02.JPG
Tim Parkin stands in front of trees felled on property owned by Steve Connelly in Rochester Township March 6, 2022. Some of the trees contained great blue heron nests which was a source of litigation as Connelly works to sell the property to International Properties LLC to build housing. Neighbors and members of the community oppose the plan saying it would destroy a great blue heron nest colony.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin

“How I don’t know how you can undo irreparable harm,” he said. “By definition, you can’t.”

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Calls to Connelly Sunday evening for comment were not immediately returned.

Parkin said the Save the Rookery group would meet Sunday night and then speak with attorneys representing them in the pending cases Monday to determine their next course of action.

“This isn’t over,” Parkin said.

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John Molseed joined the Post Bulletin in 2018. He covers arts, culture, entertainment, nature and other fun stories he's surprised he gets paid to cover. When he's not writing articles about Southeast Minnesota artists and musicians, he's either picking banjo, brewing beer, biking or looking for other hobbies that begin with the letter "b." Readers can reach John at 507-285-7713 or jmolseed@postbulletin.com.
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