NY lawmakers introduce ‘Dark Skies Act’ to protect migrating birds and limit light pollution

January 10, 2022

Photo by Carlos Oliva from Pexels

Every year in New York City, tens of thousands of migratory birds are killed after being drawn from their flight paths by the city’s artificial light. To combat this, State Sen. Brad Hoylman and Assembly Member Patricia Fahy last week introduced the “Dark Skies Act,” a bill that aims to prevent the deaths of migratory birds and reduce light pollution. The bill would require the majority of non-essential outdoor lights to be turned off, covered, or switched to motion sensor activation after 11 p.m. Alternatively, lights could be set to shine downwards.

According to the National Audubon Society, 70 percent of bird species migrate each year, a vast majority during nighttime. Bright, artificial lights can disorient the birds, causing them to crash into buildings.

The “Dark Skies Act” follows a series of bills that aim to combat the death of birds due to light pollution. In 2014, the state passed a bill that reduced external light from state-owned buildings. While this bill had the right idea in the mind, it didn’t significantly decrease the number of bird deaths. After more mass bird death incidents, the city council approved a bill in 2019 that required newly constructed buildings to use materials easier for birds to see.

“Buildings don’t have to be bird killers. On just one night this autumn, building workers found over 200 migratory birds dead at the base of two buildings in Manhattan,” Hoylman said.

“While Albany enacted legislation in 2014 to reduce excess light from state-owned buildings to help prevent migratory bird collisions, we must build on this success and reduce the impacts of artificial light throughout the state. All artificial light contributes to this problem, drawing birds away from their migratory paths towards the death trap of cities and towns.”

The night Hoylman is referring to is September 14, 2021, when volunteers from NYC Audubon spent hours collecting the corpses of over 200 birds that had collided with skyscrapers in Lower Manhattan during their migratory journey. This event pushed local community leaders to create a resolution urging building owners to implement strategies to reduce the number of bird collisions against their properties.

“Over 230,000 birds are killed every year as a result of increasing light pollution in dense areas and mass bird death events are on the incline,” Fahy said. “Not only are the number of recorded bird deaths and mass death events rising, but increasing light pollution is disrupting migratory patterns and affecting ecosystems that rely on those patterns and the presence of specific species of birds.”

According to the International Dark-Sky Association, nearly 30 percent of outdoor lighting in the United States is wasted, costing over $3.3 billion in electricity and pumping out 21 million tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the air every year. Light pollution not only disrupts the lives of migratory birds but also affects the sleep patterns of humans.


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