An uproar is brewing in a Tuckhoe neighborhood and it all stems from a dead tree. Residents fear the tree is on the county's chopping block - not realizing it may be home to a protected species of owls.
How do you balance the importance of public safety and preserving nature? It's a question that has one Tuckahoe neighborhood talking and fighting for answers.
Doris Demm has lived near Three Chopt and Forest Avenue for more than 30 years. In the last few, she's welcomed a new addition.
"For about 4 or 5 years, owls have nested here. Everyone in the neighborhood loves them," she said.
"Sometimes they park on the mailbox and watch us as we go by. They're kind of ominous looking sometimes with that head turning around," she added.
But there may be a problem. The owls nest in an apparently dead tree.
Julie Orr noticed something different about it during her daily walk.
"I actually came by here with a friend to show her Thursday afternoon and there was no X there. Sometime between Thursday afternoon and Saturday night, somebody came by and put the X on the tree," Orr said.
Residents fear that X puts the tree on the chopping block.
"No locality is excluded from state or federal guidelines," said Melissa Stanley with Richmond Wildlife Center.
She says it's illegal to tamper with a protected species' active nest, which means the fight could end in the neighbors' favor.
"A lot of their original habitat has been destroyed. Most of the species we have here in Virginia like to nest in old cavities such as old trees," Stanley said.
She argues if the tree isn't at risk of damaging property...
"We would encourage the county to leave the tree to continue to allow these species their natural habitat."
Which is something that could be so easily chipped away at a moment's notice.
"What harm does it do? Dead or alive, that tree is not going to hurt anybody," Demm said.
"We really enjoy seeing them and watching them grow. It's just a little piece of nature in your backyard," Orr added.
County officials say dead trees are routinely removed top avoid bigger problems later. Henrico's Public Works director Steve Yob tells says he's doing some research into these concerns.
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