Harrah’s Pompano Beach Developers Seek to Avoid Relocating Burrowing Owls

The developers of Harrah’s Pompano Beach in Florida say they would prefer to pay a fee instead of undergoing efforts to relocate burrowing owls that have called the property home for decades.

Harrah's Pompano Beach Florida burrowing owls
Harrah's Pompano Beach Florida burrowing owls
Burrowing owls are at risk of losing their native homes at Harrah’s Pompano Beach in Florida. The casino is undergoing a renovation and expansion that could result in the burrowing owls being forced to find new dwellings. (Image: BirdAdvisors)

Owner and operator Caesars Entertainment ended live harness racing at the storied racino racetrack in early 2022 after 58 years. The casino company is undergoing a major redevelopment and rebranding of the location.

Caesars is renovating the Isle Casino Pompano property into Harrah’s Pompano Beach, an entertainment destination with indoor and outdoor gaming featuring more than 1,600 slot machines and electronic table game positions, and more than 40 poker tables. The renovation includes a new parking garage to allow easier guest access.

The Cordish Companies, a Maryland-based gaming and hospitality firm, has additionally partnered with Caesars to build a mixed-use development on the expansive 220-acre casino property. Cordish plans to build residential units, office space, retail shops, numerous restaurants and bars, a grocery store, and a hotel on the Isle grounds that formerly housed the racetrack and horse stables.

While Harrah’s Pompano Beach plans to open by the end of the year, the Cordish component is an expansion project that’s expected to take many years to complete.

Relocating Owls Unwise

Isle racetrack workers who were let go following the cessation of live racing were the first to voice concerns for the habitat of the casino’s burrowing owl population. The former employees say several owl families have called the vast greenspaces their home for many years.

Project Perch, a member organization of the Audubon Society working to protect burrowing owls in South Florida, has since joined the cause. Caesars and Cordish have been told by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) that they must relocate the burrowing owls or pay a $9,500 fee for eradicating their natural environment.

In August, the companies filed an application with the FWC seeking approval to pay the fee.

“Avoidance and minimization are not feasible to accomplish the project purpose,” the application explained as to why the owl burrows cannot be relocated on the property.

In 223 acres of green space, there is no way to accommodate the owls?” questioned Kelly Heffernan, a Project Perch member and spokesperson.

Roger Goldstein worked at the horse racetrack for nearly 50 years. He told the Sun Sentinel recently that Cordish and Caesars should have understood the responsibility of caring for the owls before redeveloping the property.

“They bought a property with an endangered species on it. The owls have been there forever,” Goldstein said.

Wise Owls?

The notion that owls are intelligent dates back to Greek mythology. The ancient Greeks viewed an owl’s ability to see at night and their heightened nighttime senses as mystical abilities associated with the Goddess of Wisdom, Athena.

But just how intelligent are owls? Do the burrowing owls on the future Harrah’s Pompano Beach property understand the threat facing their native homes? It’s unlikely.

It’s sad to say, but most owls actually fall into the lower range of bird intelligence,” says BirdMinds.com, an online website providing insights into bird brains.

Experts say about 75% of an owl’s brain is devoted to senses, primarily sight and sound. “Most owls are dimwits,” concluded the BirdMinds website.

According to the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, when threatened, burrowing owls flatten themselves against the ground or run instead of flying as most other owls do. The burrowing owl is the only owl that perches on the ground.

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