The destruction of a bald eagles' nest on Cane Island to make way for a yet-to-be-approved housing development is a sad tale for the Lowcountry -- yet typical.
Far too often, area wildlife habitat is destroyed by humans who are not paying attention or disregarding development rules as they make way for more humans -- humans who, ironically, say they love wildlife.
In this case, the nest was destroyed along with the tree in which it sat. A developer is considering building a neighborhood on the island, including a 5-acre waterfront park near where the tree once stood. Crews had been clearing the area to expose live oaks. It may be that a worker cut down the tree.
The S.C. Department of Natural Resources is investigating the matter to determine exactly what happened. While bald eagles are no longer endangered, they are still monitored. Damaging a nest or harming the birds can result in hefty penalties and even jail time.
And John Trask III, speaking on behalf of the trust of Flora G. Trask that owns the property, has apologized. "The landowner, the family and the developer are as saddened and surprised as the rest of the community and are working 100 percent with the authorities," he said.
Bluffton recently experienced a similar destruction of habitat. In September, the town filed suit against a developer for cutting down more than 6,000 trees on property along U.S. 278. The suit claims the developer failed to comply with landscaping ordinances and did not protect trees on the property as required.
And some Hilton Head Island residents are still fuming about the destruction of trees and understory at a creekside lagoon at the new Shelter Cove Towne Centre where more than 200 types of birds roost. The developer has agreed to maintain the remaining vegetation, plant more foliage and build an observation platform for birders.
We, as a community and as regulation enforcers, need to do a much better job of tilting the balance back toward protection of wildlife habitat. That includes educating developers about what they can and cannot do, creating and enforcing ordinances that protect habitat and throwing the book at those who break the rules.
Development is, of course, an important part of our economy. But it can be done responsibly so that trees, waterways and the rest of the natural world are left for animals and people both to enjoy.