Lights Out, Texas!

Borderlands Research Institute

ALPINE TX – The Borderlands Research Institute (BRI) at Sul Ross State University and the Big Bend Conservation Alliance are teaming up to spread the word in the Big Bend region about Lights Out Texas. Lights Out Texas is a state-wide initiative that asks Texans to turn out or dim non-essential lights to support fall and spring birds during their migration, when hundreds of millions of birds will be passing through the state.

Turning off non-essential lights helps prevent bird casualties as birds can become disoriented by bright artificial lights and skyglow, often causing them to collide with buildings or windows. While lights can throw birds off their migration paths, bird fatalities are more directly caused by the amount of energy the birds waste flying around and calling out in confusion. The exhaustion can then leave them vulnerable to other urban threats.

Engaging more people in bird conservation is an urgent issue. An analysis of North American bird populations that was published in the journal SCIENCE documents that the number of birds in the United States and Canada has declined by 29 percent in the last 50 years, a statistic that has shocked researchers and conservation organizations. Compounding that issue in West Texas is the ongoing drought, categorized as an “exceptional drought” by the National Weather Service. Native West Texas birds have adapted to the climate, but drought conditions can make it harder to survive, and can make it especially difficult for migrating birds to make it through alive.

“Bird populations in the United States have been declining rapidly, and it is up to us to do what we can to help,” said Dr. Louis Harveson, who is the Dan Allen Hughes, Jr., BRI Endowed Director and Regents’ Professor of Wildlife Management at Sul Ross State University. “Birds are essential to our planet’s ecology because they provide ecosystem services, act as benchmarks for environmental health, increase livability, act as drivers for local economies through nature tourism, and connect people of all ages and abilities to the natural world.”

BRI is partnering with the Big Bend Conservation Alliance to spread the word. Here’s how you can help:
• Turn off all non-essential nighttime lighting on buildings and other structures from 11:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. during peak migration dates of April 19 – May 7.
• During peak migration, put out bird seed and water to help birds on their way. This is especially important in the Big Bend Region, which has been experiencing severe to exceptional drought conditions; birds will have fewer food sources along their path—food and water can help sustain them on their journey.
• Volunteer to help create and distribute bird care packages, which will include bird seed, instructions, and informational material.
• Volunteer to help collect, tag, and transport bird casualties to Borderlands Research Institute at Sul Ross State University, so they can be transported to Texas A&M for a state-wide study.

Along with the partnership between BRI and the Big Bend Conservation Alliance, Lights Out Texas in the Big Bend region is being supported by Marfa Public Library. Bird seed for bird care packages has been generously donated by Tractor Supply Company in Alpine. Additional support for bird care packages comes from Rio Grande Joint Venture, Dixon Water Foundation, Cecilia M. Riley at Trans-Pecos Bird Conservation, and Ellen Weinacht.

“The Big Bend Conservation Alliance is humbled to be working with volunteers to represent the Big Bend in this state-wide initiative,” said Shelley Bernstein, executive director for the alliance. “These efforts will help us monitor buildings throughout the tri-county for bird collisions, while getting hundreds of bird care packages distributed through our local libraries to connect our communities to the needs of our birds.”

For more information and to register to volunteer: www.bigbendconservationalliance.org/projects/lights-out-texas

For more than a decade, the Borderlands Research Institute has encouraged effective land stewardship of the Chihuahuan Desert. Housed at Sul Ross State University, the Borderlands Research Institute builds on a long-lasting partnership with private landowners, the university’s Range and Wildlife Program, and cooperating state, federal, and non-governmental organizations. Through research, education, and outreach, the Borderlands Research Institute is helping to conserve the last frontier of Texas and the Southwest.