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County to turn off lights in summer and fall to protect songbirds

Friday, August 13, 2021 by Seth Smalley

The Travis County Commissioners Court passed a resolution Tuesday that will mandate county buildings to turn off all nonessential lights from 11 p.m.-6 a.m. during key migration periods for migrating songbirds. The Lights Off initiative will be in effect annually from March 1-June 15 and from Aug. 15-Nov. 30.

While a similar resolution was passed in April, the new initiative lengthens the protections to encompass both the spring and fall bird migration seasons.

“We joined governmental entities, private businesses and organizations across the state in taking conservation efforts to protect migratory birds, while also reducing energy use and light pollution,” said Deborah Scott, an environmental project manager with the Natural Resources program.

The motion also directs county staff in Transportation and Natural Resources to work together with county information officers to educate the public about the Lights Out campaign and the benefits of reducing light pollution.

Each year, almost 2 billion birds travel through Texas, which constitutes almost a third of all bird migration in North America.

“It is important to recognize this massive migration of birds often occurs at night … these birds must contend with a rapidly increasing but still under-recognized threat: light pollution,” Commissioner Jeffrey Travillion said, reading from the resolution.

The resolution cites a study finding that Texas cities – including Dallas, San Antonio and Houston – are among the top culprits in America that expose migratory birds to light pollution. It additionally mentions that nature tourism in the Rio Grande Valley, which mostly consists of bird-watching, contributes $300 million annually to the economy, supporting 4,407 jobs.

“Turning out the lights also provides additional benefits, such as reducing electricity consumption, saving money and reducing pollution associated with power production,” Commissioner Travillion said. “Travis County is joining an international effort to reduce bird and building collisions by exposing and implementing a simple solution to protect birds – turning off nonessential lighting during critical migration periods.”

Commissioner Ann Howard drew attention to the Dark Skies program, which shares similar conservation goals.

“There are so many reasons to do a better job about lighting just the pathway that we need. So for the birds and for the stars and for conservation of energy, I am so happy that we’re doing this,” Howard said.

The initiative is led by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Texan by Nature. Texas Conservation Alliance, Texas Audubon Defenders of Wildlife, Hill Country Alliance, Texas A&M Biodiversity Research and Teaching Collections, and Texas Parks and Wildlife also support the effort.

Travillion moved to approve and Howard seconded. The resolution passed unanimously.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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