OAKLAND -- The chairman of a powerful congressional oversight committee sent a letter to the head of the federal fish and wildlife agency Wednesday questioning its decision to recommend charges against a Bay Point tree trimmer who injured five birds while pruning trees near a downtown Oakland post office.
In his letter to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Daniel Ashe, California Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, also questions why no action has been taken against the U.S. Postal Service, which hired tree trimmer Ernesto Pulido for the May 3 job.
Last week, the fish and wildlife service announced it was recommending that the U.S. attorney's office fine Pulido $1,500 for misdemeanor violation of a federal law protecting migratory birds. A violation of the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act can result in a fine of $15,000 and six months in jail.
"When so many government workers are offered a pass, referring and prioritizing charges against a private citizen for incidental and relatively minor injuries to a non-endangered species -- commissioned by a federal agency no less -- appears nothing short of bureaucratic bullying," Issa wrote on behalf of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which he chairs.
Issa said the prosecution of Pulido is "unfair and unnecessary" and called the investigation another example of a federal agency refusing to prosecute federal employees.
Hired by the Postal Service, Pulido and a crew of workers trimmed ficus trees near the 13th Street post office, where numerous egrets and black-crowned herons nest. The birds had been defecating on mail trucks parked below the trees. Five young black-crowned herons fell some 25 feet from nests and suffered scrapes and bruises; one had a fractured beak. No birds were killed.
Issa, who represents the 49th District, which comprises northern coastal areas of San Diego County, argued that federal courts have thrown out cases when it has been shown that violations of the law were done inadvertently. Fish and wildlife investigators have said Pulido did not intend to harm the birds, and he has expressed remorse and paid for the care of the injured birds, which were taken to a rescue center in Fairfield.
Rebecca Roca, an agent for U.S. Fish and Wildlife, said the investigation is complete and will not be reopened, but the agency will respond to Issa's request for documents, including emails, related to the case.
"We've made our recommendation to the U.S. attorney's office and we are waiting on them," Roca said. "Nothing has changed."
State wildlife officials are also investigating the incident.
David DeBolt covers breaking news. Contact him in Richmond at 510-262-2728. Follow him at Twitter.com/daviddebolt.