editor’s note: On April 20 and 25 2022 the Mesilla Valley Audubon Society (MVAS) presented proclamations to the City of Las Cruces and to Dona Ana County advocating for dark skies to help birds with their annual spring and fall migrations. The national Audubon Society launched The Migratory Bird Initiative (www.audubon.org/conservation/migratory-bird-initiative) which promotes improving the safety of bird migration with participation by all Audubon chapters. Of the many approaches to helping the migratory process, helping with night time excess lighting is just one step. The essay below, written by Dana Loy, is what we would like all our members and friends to appreciate as part of the multi-step process that National Audubon is laying before us. It is the first of multiple articles that will surely follow. The full proclamation sent to Dona Ana County is included below.
Lights Out Las Cruces
It’s time for migrating birds to pass through southern New Mexico. We can help them stay safe by turning down the nighttime lights and keeping our beautiful skies dark.
The National Audubon Society promotes dark skies for migrating birds through its Lights Out program, and locally, the Mesilla Valley Audubon Society is leading that effort for New Mexico. During April, at our request, the Las Cruces City Council and the Doña Ana County Commissioners issued a Lights Out for Birds proclamation, clearing the way for bird-friendly night skies in our region, especially during the spring and fall migrations.
When birds pass over cities and towns lit up by too many lights, they tend to fly toward the brightness, crashing into buildings or circling for hours, wasting energy and becoming vulnerable to other threats. Add glaring lights to the countless other dangers in the lives of birds, and millions more will die each year.
MVAS believes that if most people knew about the harms of excessive lighting, they would lower or turn off many of their outdoor lights to help save birds, reduce electricity waste, and see the stars. We advocate lowering the lights during bird migration and strong enforcement and strengthening of our city’s lighting ordinances throughout the year.
By alerting our City Council and County Commissioners to the bright-lights issue and asking for the proclamation, MVAS has made a first step toward keeping our skies safe for birds while supporting Las Cruces’ sustainability and climate goals through reducing energy use. The proclamation asks that lights be dimmed from April 22 to May 12 and September 6 to October 29 during the hours of 11:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.
Dark skies not only help protect birds; they’re also calming and beautiful. They let the stars shine through and are good for the physical and behavioral health of all animals, including people. But dark skies can disappear, as we've seen in much of the country. That loss is creeping into our region, too: aerial photographs show a persistent glare over Las Cruces. If we don’t act soon, the beauty of the night in southern New Mexico will vanish, and once our beloved dark skies are gone, they won’t be back.
by Dana Loy