Pennsylvania Legacies #207: Lights Out!

New legislation in Harrisburg would require the use of responsible outdoor lighting at state government facilities, something cities in Pennsylvania and across the country are already pursuing. A panel of Dark Sky advocates explains why limiting light pollution is needed to protect migratory birds, as well as its implications for human health, environmental justice, scientific research, and outdoor recreation in the Commonwealth.

Light pollution — the glare of artificial light into the nighttime sky — doesn’t just prevent us from seeing the stars. It’s one of the leading causes of bird fatalities, leading to the death, in North America alone, of up to an estimated 1 billion birds each year.

As the international “dark sky movement” grows, cities and states are passing ordinances to limit how, where, and when outdoor lighting can be used. On this episode we speak with three experts who study the relationship between light pollution and bird populations in the Pittsburgh area to learn more about the effects of artificial light on the natural world and what humans can do to help.

Diane Turnshek, a lecturer at the Carnegie Mellon University Department of Physics and Astronomy, first became interested in reducing light pollution after doing field work in the Utah desert, where stars shone unimpeded and the Milky Way glowed clearly across the sky.

“Everyone should see this,” she said.

Nick G. Liadis, founder and director of Bird Lab, was an architect who grew increasingly disturbed by how many birds were dying in collisions with buildings he had helped design. His concern led to a second career in avian biology by way of the Powdermill Avian Research Center in Westmoreland County, where he was surprised to discover how many species of birds migrate through western Pennsylvania every year.

“Even in backyards in backyards in suburban Pittsburgh, you get really amazing species and a pretty astounding array of diversity in bird communities,” Liadis said.

Liadis now teaches bird-safe design at CMU and consults with architects and developers how to design bird-friendly buildings.

Migratory birds typically travel at night and navigate by the stars. John Rice, an Urban Bird Conservation Coordinator at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, studies the relationship between urban landscapes on migratory birds. Not only does excessive lighting disrupt their navigation and put additional stress on birds already weakened by flying hundreds of miles at a time, it also lures the creatures into cities, where they collide with buildings.

Many migratory songbirds travel distances of more than 1,000 miles between their breeding and wintering ranges. The “sky glow” over cities interferes with the birds’ natural flight path, causing them to travel even longer distances and wasting precious fat reserves.

“It’s incredible they are able to do this to begin with,” Rice said. “Adding these additional stressors is sometimes what pushes them over the line of their ability to survive these insanely long jumps.”

All three experts are pushing for the passage of Pennsylvania H.B. 1803, known as the Responsible Outdoor Lighting Control Act. If passed, it would minimize the glare from light sources like street lamps and government buildings. Supporters hope it will encourage businesses and residents to do the same.

“It’s thoughtful, responsible outdoor lighting,” Turnshek said.

PEC has been an advocate of H.B. 1803 for a variety of reasons, including the economic importance of ecosystems disrupted by too much artificial light. Cherry Springs State Park and other places in the Pennsylvania Wilds attract people from across the world who come to marvel at the night sky. As with other outdoor activities PEC promotes, many come away from these experiences with a new, or renewed, sense of stewardship.

As more people understand the importance of reducing light pollution, even urban places will enjoy a better view. Pittsburgh is making a long-awaited switch to LED street lamps, which will put it in compliance with the Dark Sky Ordinance enacted by former Mayor Bill Peduto in 2021, among the first of its kind in the country. As the new lights are installed, Turnshek wants to track their improvement on the night sky.

“I want to see more people see more stars,” she said. “And we can measure that.”

Episode Links

Josh Raulerson: (00:01)
Today is Friday, January 26th, 2024. I’m Josh Raulerson and from the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, this is Pennsylvania Legacies. Diane Turnshek has been teaching astronomy at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh since the early eighties. Over the years, she noticed how hard it was becoming to get a clear view of the night sky. In 2015, she gave a Ted talk about it.

Diane Turnshek: (00:25)
Here’s a map of Pennsylvania, and you can see the light pollution is pretty much ever pervasive. You notice a little dark spot that’s four hours up Route 28 — that’s Cherry Springs State Park, the darkest place in the state. You can see from this that there are hardly any spots east of the Mississippi that are free from light pollution. Hardly anywhere can you actually see good, clear, dark skies now. 

Josh Raulerson: (00:53)
Diane’s presentation caught the attention of city government. And before long, Pittsburgh had enacted one of the state’s first Dark Sky ordinances aimed at limiting light pollution from buildings and parking lots. It was a high profile win for the growing dark skies movement, which has united a diverse coalition of professional and amateur stargazers biologists and bird lovers, and advocates for public health and environmental justice. The movement took another step forward last year, this time at the state level with the introduction of House Bill 1803. That measure would require state government facilities to be lit in ways that minimize light, trespass glare, and sky glow over cities. It’s meant to encourage similar responsible lighting practices by private property owners. PEC is one of many groups that support the legislation, recognizing not only the ecological, scientific and aesthetic value of dark skies, but also the economic importance of wild places untouched by light pollution.

Of particular interest to avian ecologists is the effect of excessive outdoor lighting on migratory birds, which is closely linked with other hazards birds face in urban environments. Today we’re going to look at all these factors and more with three southwestern Pennsylvanians who’ve been active on this issue for years. Diane Turnshek whose voice you heard earlier. Also, Jon Rice and Nick Liadis of the Powdermill Avian Research Center in Westmoreland County, an affiliate of the Carnegie Museums of Natural History. Everybody welcome. Thanks for being here.

Jon Rice (2:20)

Hi. Thanks for having us.

Nick Liadis (2:21)

Yes, good to be here.

Josh Raulerson (2:22)

Let’s go around the table and get to know each of you a little bit better. I want to start with Diane Turnshek. She’s a lecturer at the Carnegie Mellon University Department of Physics and Astronomy among many other things. I think everybody on this call wears several hats, so we’ll try to keep them straight. But Diane, welcome. Tell me a little bit about your work. What got you interested in the problem of light pollution because I think there’s a story there?

Diane Turnshek: (02:44)
Yeah. I came to Pittsburgh after I got a master’s degree at the University of Arizona, and I ended up having many children and staying home with them. I started working at Carnegie Mellon. They sent me out to Utah where I saw stars again for the first time in a really long time. And I, I just had forgotten. So I thought everyone should see this. This should just be something people can step outside their door and look up and see, because that’s how it was for me when I was young and I felt bad for all the people who never, ever get to. They don’t even know what we’re talking about when we say Milky Way. And I started teaching astronomy here in Pittsburgh in 1981, and it’s really changed a lot. When I asked the students, have you ever seen the Milky Way? The percentages are pitiful now. So I just, I think it adds so much to your life. It rounds out spiritually your whole existence because you then appreciate where your place is in the universe. I just think it’s supremely important, but other people don’t know. So I’m trying to bring that understanding to them.

Josh Raulerson: (04:03)
That’s, that’s what we’re doing today. So, Diane, thanks for being here. I’m going to kick it over to Jon Rice, who’s the Urban Bird Conservation Coordinator at Carnegie Mellon. Uh, pardon me. Carnegie Museums of Natural History and the Powdermill Avian Research Center. Jon, can you tell me a little bit about the institutional background here, the work that the museums do with birds, especially in the city? And we can also talk about Powdermill and your, your role in all of that.

Jon Rice: (04:27)
Sure. So I am a formerly a Powdermill-specific employee, but I’ve always been based in the city. My work has always been urban based. So talking about, thinking about researching the interaction between urban landscapes and wildlife, specifically migratory birds. That’s where the issues of human-built spaces, glass and light pollution come into play with, with how migratory birds are stopping over in urban spaces, suburban spaces, and rural spaces, which connects to our Powdermill Avian Research Center at Powdermill Nature Reserve, which is in the Laurel Highlands out near Ligonier where we have been running a banding operation for just over 60 years now. So, while we’re catching birds in mist nets, we’re, we’re doing all different forms of scientific research while we have them in hand. Some of that relates to avian perception of glass, using a, a flight tunnel, as well as a myriad of other forms of research that are kind of constantly changing and evolving.

Josh Raulerson (05:33)
Also, Nick Liadis joins us today. He is, among other things, again, also involved with the museums and with Powdermill. In addition to that founder and director of Bird Lab. Nick, can you tell us a bit about your work, your research, and especially Bird Lab?

Nick Liadis: (05:46)
Yeah, sounds good. I started Bird Lab a couple of years ago. We do avian conservation in cities. Pittsburgh is our home base. We do a lot of work in the urban environment. I have a background as an architect. I was a licensed architect and a practitioner and an educator for a very long time. I was tired of finding dead birds outside the buildings that we were designing. And so I started asking questions about why, why birds are, you know, flying into windows, what can architects do about it? I had connected with the Powdermill Avian Research Center. As Jon said, they’re testing their how birds perceive and see glass. And as an architect, this was all really fascinating to me. And I got involved with Powdermill’s banding program and a number of years later, I sort of completed this transformation into a, into a bird biologist.

I still am connected to the architecture community. I’ve taught bird-safe design at Carnegie Mellon University, and I consult with architects on how to design bird friendly buildings and developers and other, other kinds of folks who are involved in the building industry. The really interesting thing is, is that you could go out into a remote part of the Laurel Highlands and see an ovenbird or you can see an ovenbird during migration in the city of Pittsburgh. That’s really amazing. We don’t know though, how well those ovenbirds and those forest interior birds do in less favorable habitat that you’d find in, in a city, for example. So my area of focus is trying to understand how those migratory songbirds use fragmented habitats that are in cities. Frick Park, Hays Woods, even, you know, in, in backyards and in suburban Pittsburgh, you get really amazing species and a pretty astounding array of diversity in bird communities. So it’s pretty amazing what can turn up during migration as birds are kind of moving between their wintering and breeding grounds.

Josh Raulerson: (07:44)
I really appreciate that perspective, and I mean, I, this is one of the reasons I wanted to cover this story is because there’s so many routes whereby people come to this subject and the architecture background and astronomy and biology and all these things in addition to the fact that birds are just kind of great and people love birds. So it’s an easy topic to discuss. Diane, the background that you bring to this conversation, obviously, is in astronomy and physics. Can you give us a little bit of an explainer on what we’re talking about when we talk about light pollution? How is that defined from a technical standpoint? How is it measured scientifically and anything else you think our listeners might need to know about light pollution as a concept?

Diane Turnshek: (08:22)
So, light pollution is unnecessary, excess, obtrusive light, artificial light at night. It’s something that’s only happened in the last hundred years. Our, our whole civilization before then didn’t have to deal with this. And everybody before a hundred years ago could just walk outside and look up and see the Milky Way. So light pollution is specifically human made. The sky glow is the glow over cities. It’s a white light dome that you see when you look up from the city and from far away. Like if you’re in the desert, looking back at Las Vegas for instance, it actually looks like just a big white dome over the city. And from hundreds of miles away, you can see it. Light trespass is when your light goes outside the boundaries of your property into someone else’s yard or someone else’s property. And that’s considered a nuisance right now under the law.

But we’re looking to change that to be a more robust thing that people can bring to court and say, I can’t sleep. It’s destroying my way of life, my quality of life because it’s intruding into my property. Just like if your neighbor had a barrel of burning leaves and the smoke was drifting into your property, or there was some junk heap and the smell was drifting into your property, you know, there’s a lot of things that we don’t put up with crossing boundary lines, but for some reason, light hasn’t quite made it there in the law books. And there are even people now that I’ve seen that are weaponizing light. They don’t like their neighbors. They put big floodlights in their yard. So light trespass is a big one that people really should consider more. The Illuminating Engineering Society, IES, the US IES has put ratings on lights called bug ratings.

That’s backwards, upwards and glare, BUG. And so what we’re trying to go for is zero backwards into people’s windows from a streetlight, for instance; zero uplight — we want 30 degrees off of vertical line shields to keep the light down. And that also improves glare, which is a pedestrian or a car driving up to the light. They don’t get those direct LED directional rays into their eyes. Glare is a big one now that we’re changing and transitioning over to LEDs. Those are some of the things that we talk about when we talk about light pollution. Most people say dark skies because it’s a positive thing, whereas light pollution is a negative thing. And all the groups just always want to be positive about this. The Dark Skies International, which is the worldwide organization and the amount of Dark Sky Park some places, and their awarded certificates for having dark skies always like focus on the positive

Josh Raulerson: (11:35)
And there will be more positives to focus on, uh, ahead when we get into talking about what’s in HB 1803 and how it’ll help. But first, let’s spend a little time outlining, you know, the problem that we’re addressing here, which is the effect that light pollution has on bird populations. Nick, can you speak to that?

Nick Liadis: (11:53)
Yeah, so I, and Jon will be able to chime in on this also, but one thing that we should discuss is that a lot of migratory songbirds, especially near-tropical migrants, these are birds that are wintering in places like Costa Rica, Peru in the tropics, and they come up into North America for the breeding season. They’re actually migrating at night, which is just really remarkable that these tiny little songbirds that weigh as much as a couple of coins, they’re traversing continents, they’re crossing oceans, and they’re doing this primarily at night. And there’s a number of reasons why they’re doing that. They’re using the stars to help navigate and to help orient. They’re taking advantage of calmer nocturnal atmospheres just a little bit calmer at night. Usually there are less predators out at night, but the issue with light pollution and how that affects migration is that if those birds are migrating and they’re needing the stars to help orient and navigate, and all of a sudden they come into close proximity to a city.

Diane mentioned that the glow from Las Vegas could be several hundred miles, right?  So these birds are migrating, they’re gonna encounter that glow, which essentially essentially erases the night sky. It removes the stars. And so that light pollution disrupts their ability to, to orient and navigate. And so that’s one of the most profound effects that light pollution at that kind of macro scale has on bird migration. Just like in the same way that moths are attracted to a flame, the light not only disrupts migration for birds, but the light also attracts them. And then because that light is coming from buildings within a city, the birds come into closer proximity to those buildings, which sets them up for the potential for a collision event.

Jon Rice: (13:45)
And so, naturally, what would occur is while these birds are migrating overnight, they obviously will get to see the sunrise earlier when they’re flying at several thousands feet. And so they start to see the sunrise, and that’s a cue for them to, to start their descent. They have specific flight calls that they make. They’re often flying in these large mixed flocks of species. And so they start making these specific flight calls that say, alright, we’re gonna descend. Now they start picking out a place to land. And so on the surface we usually see birds start starting to come down from migration somewhere around an hour, half an hour before we perceive sunrise. So that’s sort of the normal progression. They would land early in the morning. That’s why we have the dawn chorus, which is bird songs first thing in the morning. That is not them waking up, that is them voraciously searching for food because they’ve just spent the night flying potentially thousands of kilometers.

And so they’re, they’re moving around, they’re trying to refuel first thing in the morning. When you introduce light pollution, like Nick said, they’re, they’re confused. So they’re often drawn far off course. They are disoriented and attracted to the light. So they’re often being pulled out of migration hours before they would normally. So they’re not making as far of jumps as they should be, and they’re stopping over sooner, which means they’re wasting fat reserves. They’re, they’re wasting time. As Diane mentioned with climate change and other factors, these important hatch outs of insects at these different longitudinal scales and avian migration movements have always been very linked and they’re becoming more and more disconnected. So the idea of birds being pulled out of migration early unnecessarily is problematic. And then where are they being pulled into? As Nick said, they’re being pulled into areas where they are not colliding with, you know, the steel building’s top floor.

We don’t see collisions high up because once birds come into a city area, once they’ve landed, they’re going from shrub to shrub, tree to tree looking for food. And that’s where they get set up to collide with windows where they see the reflected tree or bush that they’re currently feeding in. They see it reflected in the window in front of them, and they think they’re going to another tree and they collide with the window. And so we usually see collisions within the first three stories only. And that’s one of the major issues of light pollution is that even if a bird doesn’t end up colliding with a window, there’s all these other issues that that arise from the light pollution itself, even if it doesn’t directly end in a window collision kill. There’s, there’s all these other problems that —it’s, it’s incredible that they’re able to do this to begin with and they’re already under enough stress, physiologically atrophying organs in their body and swelling their, their mass and then using up all of those fat reserves in these jumps. I mean, it’s incredible. I, Nick and I have both seen it where you’re banning birds and one individual of a species you get that’s just super plump and you’re like, this guy’s ready to go. They’re ready to fly. And the next one you pull out is this skinny bean stock. That’s okay. This one probably just arrived, you know, that, you know, this morning and, and has made this really large jump. It’s just incredible what they can physiologically do. Adding these additional stressors is sometimes what pushes birds over the line of, of sort of their ability to survive these insane migratory jumps that they do.

Josh Raulerson: (17:14)
Are there other, like, specifically biological issues that we should be considering? Maybe not just birds, are there other wildlife impacts? Other ways in which this is a problem? Ecologically,

Diane Turnshek: (17:25)
Every species that has been studied has been shown to have been affected. Not all adversely affected. There are some that find the lights beneficial for predation. Mostly bats can swoop in and gather up mouthfuls of moths under street lights. But in general, bats don’t like to go near the lights, but every single animal has been affected. Plants are affected. Trees leaf out too early. They hold their leaves too long. And the fact that bugs and birds are on a weirdly different schedule now with artificial lights means that there could be disconnect where the bugs are there before the birds migrate there, it leaves them stressed. And you can see the effect of that very clearly on sometimes parking lot trees where there’s a light on one side that side’s dead the other side’s fine. There are all kinds of things that are affected — fish, and we light the bridges in Pittsburgh. I don’t understand that. They don’t recognize that algae and things under the water are affected by the lights.

Josh Raulerson: (18:37)
Yeah, I mean, I think that’s not obvious to most people how all of these issues are so closely related. But I think all the more reason why, if you can identify one cause and address it, it carries that much more impact. And that’s really what we’re here to talk about with HB 1803. And, and other, you know, other maybe municipal level ordinances and voluntary initiatives to deal with excess light pollution. House Bill 1803 before the Pennsylvania General Assembly was reintroduced, I think last fall, all of you have had a hand in, in advocating for this legislation, as has PEC. But Diane, tell me, since you had already started explaining some of the concrete steps that can be taken at the level of legislation, what is in House Bill 1803, what specifically would it do and what would we expect the result to be?

Diane Turnshek: (19:26)
Okay. I had actually nothing to do with this. This was all Tim Lawler and Susan Webster, there in West Chester Dark Sky Committee. People on the other side of the state. They talked to Representative Chris Pielli and he got a bunch of other representatives, 14 people altogether to introduce this bill. It’s called the Responsible Lighting Control Act. And it’s for the whole state. And it’s supremely well written. I’m so thrilled about this because sometimes you get these in there , they’re not. They talk about residential areas being at 2200 Kelvin for a CCT, it’s unheard of . I know they make 2200 Kelvin lights, but I don’t know anybody who’s actually put them in. And this would be across the whole state for streetlights. All the buildings, public facilities, when a light reaches end of life — that’s so dramatic, right — then they would get changed. 2200 in the residential areas or dark sky areas or environmentally sensitive areas up to, but not exceeding 2,700 Kelvin everywhere else.

Also, they take care to say that you can use motion sensors or timers to get those lights off from 11:00 PM to 6:00 AM or dimmed, if that’s all you can do in that particular area. Trespass won’t go more than 220 lumens at the property boundary. That’s new. I’m so happy with that one. Room darkening shades will be used in all government buildings to reduce the light that spills out of a building, which is super important for birds or lights go off if they can use only reflective roadway markings and signs. So whenever possible don’t put lights at all, just make some reflective surfaces. They talk about repositioning lights. If they’re pointed towards a building, but they’re really going up into the sky, maybe they could reposition them or shield them flagpoles. That was interesting. So the reason why billboards and flagpoles are lit from the bottom is because then it’s easier to change a light bulb if it goes out. But they’re going to light them from the top and have downward facing ones and ones that are lit from the bottom right now, they’re all going to get right now in real time, their lights change to 2200. So they’re not going to wait until end of life for those particular things. I mean, just across the board it’s thoughtful, responsible outdoor lighting. It’s just, it’s a wonderful bill. And it’s in committee now. It was proposed on Halloween and it went into committee. They were going to vote on it right away. And some people asked for more information and so it got paused. But, oh, please write your representatives. Everybody should be just getting on board and just, just a simple I approve of HB 1803 would be just wonderful. That’s what they wanna hear. Do people know about this? And are people on board with this?

Josh Raulerson: (22:37)
It’s probably bearers noting that we’re not just talking about wildlife impacts, there are human impacts too. And that actually helps to establish a context for the Dark Skies movement, which, Diane, you had mentioned earlier, and I was hoping we could go back to that and talk a bit about the origins of the Dark Skies movement. Obviously artificial light is a relatively modern innovation, and for that reason, it’s taken us a while to kind of get our heads around potential problems and challenges. Industrial pollution is also a relative newcomer historically, but, you know, 50, 60 years ago, we did sort of begin to grapple with water pollution and air pollution, light. It took a little longer to get there. And since you’re one of the people that kind of put this issue on the map in Pittsburgh and beyond, why is that? How did this movement come about? What’s the story?

Diane Turnshek: (23:25)
So, you’re right. Environmental justice issues have been around a long time. Why are, you know, industrial waste sites near neighborhoods that maybe are not as well represented? Because that’s what they can afford. The people who live there, there have been studies about light as an environmental justice issue, and Black, Hispanic and Asian areas are up to two times as bright as other areas in the city. Not a healthy thing. The connection is teen mood disorders is really strong. Hormonal cancer is pretty strong. Diabetes, heart disease, insomnia obviously is strong each thing people don’t appreciate because it’s not right now, right now in their immediate pool of worry, it’s like 20 years you might get cancer. So these things are not always considered the people who live in poorer areas, maybe they’re renting, maybe they can’t afford room darking shades or air conditioning. They want to leave their windows open at night and what is there outside their window is a big streetlight.

So they’re most impacted by this and they have the least voice. What I’ve been doing, and I have a cadre of students working on research projects with me, Steve Quick and I started a Sky Glow program. It’s going to be in its fifth year now for eight weeks as a research program. In the summers, I’ve also had students who went around and took Sky Glow readings in most of Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods to try to determine looking at census records, what correlates with the higher, brighter places. And it turned out he found that younger people, so that’s universities, and schools is where, where the brightest places in our city are, and all sorts of incredible creative projects.

One group made a light pollution game with birds that Jonathan helped with. And the bird flock flew over Mount Washington where it was relatively dark and forested, and then they came into the city and got bedazzled by all the lights. And it was a Kobayashi Maru, it was a, you, you die. There’s no other way. You crash into a building and you die. You’re a bird, you’re dead. And they took it to games for change in New York City. That was the design of it. There are so many projects going on. I want to measure the light around the city where you can see the Milky Way, like make a ring. You can see the Milky Way outside it can’t see the Milky Way inside it.

And then as the city changes, its 40, 45,000 streetlights to LEDs using the dark sky ordinances that have been in place since 2021. I want to see that ring shrink. I wanna see more people, see more stars, and we can measure that. I love measuring things. I like data. So, so we’re trying all fronts. I say yes to all interview requests and at last count I’ve talked to a potential audience of 1.2 billion people.

Josh Raulerson: (26:33)
Well, you can add maybe 150 to that count after this. But I’m glad you’re here. I appreciate it. And I I’m glad you brought up environmental justice, too. I think it’s really important to consider those socioeconomic impacts along with, you know, human health. You mentioned, I’ll throw in, something from our agenda too is that, you know, there are impacts economically in Pennsylvania, a state that has a large sector of our economy devoted to tourism and particularly outdoor recreation. You know, these, these things are all related too.

Diane Turnshek: (27:03)
It’s interesting. Some people who live in the middle of nowhere are there because they don’t want anyone else there. And so there is some resistance to astro-tourism when it comes to the PA Wilds area, but most of the time people are welcoming all the, the money that flows into that area. The Pennsylvania Firefly Festival started out with these incredible synchronized fireflies, and they just opened their doors for free to everybody and anyone, they had thousands of people trampling all over the woods where the females lay in the grass and devastating it. So Covid comes along and they shut everything down, and then when they open back up again, Peggy Butler picked 50 people on one night, 50 people on another night, and that’s it. Nobody else gets tickets. And they instituted all kinds of regulations. Like you walk in a single file, you point out the little glowy females on the ground and don’t step on them to the next people in line. And you have to take into account that too many tourists sometimes are not great.

Josh Raulerson: (28:11)
Yeah, it’s, it’s a balancing act. I guess the hope is that at least some portion of those people that are being introduced to dark skies and all of the things that you can observe in nature when the conditions are right, I mean, one hopes that that leads to a sort of a sense of stewardship and turns those people on to the subject and, and opens them up to other ways in which they might, you know, become involved. That’s our hope anyway as an organization in so far as we promote outdoor recreation and those kinds of things. You mentioned the PA Wilds and actually I did want to just sort of establish, we’ve been talking about this for pretty obvious reasons, mostly as kind of an urban suburban issue, but what are the concerns around light pollution in rural areas of Pennsylvania, of which we have quite a few.

Diane Turnshek: (28:54)
Yeah, no pot greenhouses are, are, and Amazon and other big warehouses are lighting up areas where no one lives. You know, you expect prisons to be lit up, and that’s a big influence. We’ve taken data with satellites and measured where all the light is and then compared that to census information. So you find places where it’s super lit up and nobody lives there. It’s fracking is another place. So there’s a lot of places that are completely oblivious to the fact that maybe you shouldn’t be lighting up the sky for no reason. The places on the sides of the turnpike where they store the salt, those places are lit to the — who’s going to steal salt? Really? I mean, some of the times it doesn’t make any sense. And so that’s partially why we do this kind of thing, is to give people the ideas that, hey, maybe the light isn’t necessary in the sky.

Josh Raulerson: (29:50)
Do any of you know about how other states have approached this issue? Pennsylvania isn’t always like kind of the first of the party on these kinds of things. It’s, it’s good to hear that we have a really good bill before the general assembly, but what, where, where does Pennsylvania rank among o other states, other jurisdictions in terms of these kinds of measures?

Diane Turnshek: (30:08)
Yeah, I think there’s 17 or 19 states that have light pollution ordinances across the state of varying degrees. And enforcement is always an issue with these things because sometimes you can have it on the books and nobody knows about it. There’s no education, there’s no enforcement. So the only places that I know of that are really careful about it are places with lots of observatories. So Arizona, especially an area like Flagstaff from the observatory, which is in Flagstaff, you look out and you hardly can see a light in a huge city because they do a really good job. So observatories are key. Put an observatory in a city and all of a sudden that makes a huge difference.

Josh Raulerson: (30:48)
What about at other levels of government?  I think Jon and Nick, you both had something to do with Pittsburgh’s dark Sky ordinance. Can you talk about that?

Jon Rice: (30:57)
So that’s another one that I, I don’t think either of us had had anything to do with that one. That was brought to in my attention at least when we were starting a Lights Out Pittsburgh program through the museum as part of our Bird Safe Pittsburgh program. And it was brought to our attention, I think, by the National Aviary. But I think that was a Dark Skies initiative collaboration with the city just conveniently overlapped heavily with what we were trying to get people to, to sort of sign up for as part of our, our Lights Out program. And although there was not a bird or wildlife centric portion of that, it, it’s a great example of how it doesn’t always need to be. In some cases, you know, it, it’s more impactful. Our Lights Out program, we’re only asking folks to turn their lights out during avian migration, which is during the spring and fall seasons. And these ordinances are year round, which is even better.

We try to entice folks to be involved because it’s only for a portion of the year that they have to turn their lights out between midnight and 6:00 AM. But light pollution is a problem all year long, and it doesn’t only focus around avian migration. Birds are impacted outside of migration by light pollution as well. And so some of these ordinances that are not a specific kind of wildlife focus, but but are more general that can have these sort of all year long during these time periods of either dimmed or shut off lights as well as the kind of lights, you know, we’re talking about the lumens, the, the, the color. I can’t remember. Diane, can you remind what CCT means the, that’s related to the, the, the temperature kelvin of the light itself, correct?

Diane Turnshek: (32:36)
Right. So it’s as if you have a bar of metal, like a poker in a fire, and you’re heating it up and it starts at red and then orange is hotter and yellow, and then finally you get this blue white color that’s considered hot on the Kelvin scale. It doesn’t mean that the lights are operating at that temperature like 5,000, 50, 500 degrees. Kelvin is like the surface of the sun temperature. I’m sure the light is not operating at the same temperature as the surface of the sun. It’s that color that a star would be at that temperature. So cool is the red ones and hot are the blue ones, which is opposite the way most people think.

Jon Rice: (33:19)
So that ordinance that came through was a surprise , but a delightful one.

Josh Raulerson: (33:26)
Okay. So I, I’m clearly, I’m not going to get any of you to take credit for any of the forward motion that’s happening legislatively. 

Diane Turnshek: (33:31)
I’ll  take credit for that one. 

Josh Raulerson (33:35)
That was you. Okay.

Diane Turnshek: (33:37)
I started in the transition team for Bill Peduto talking about light pollution. So Grant Irvin, who was the sustainability coordinator for the city, was in that group that I was in, and he heard and listened and he was the champion in the government, but during the press release, he credited me with inspiring him to do it. So that’s what started this whole free for all of reporters asking me to talk. It’s, it’s interesting and, and it’s all areas that are sitting on city property, the zoo and Phipps and the National Aviary and all the city property parks and playgrounds and things. But not a lot has happened since that was instituted because it was, although lights are grandfathered in, they, they don’t have to change unless you change a large amount of them at once, not just one single light bulb or unless there’s a new building being built. So not a lot has happened. I wish I could point to something and say, look at that, that’s following Dark Sky principles. But yeah, we’re, we’re taking readings from above with drones, helicopters, aircraft, and satellites. And there’s not been a lot of change yet.

Josh Raulerson: (34:51)
Well, maybe because of those kind of loopholes and grandfather clauses that just sort of underscores the need for people to take voluntary action. And that’s what I think Bird Safe Pittsburgh is kind of about. Are you working mostly with residential? You know, like property owners and people turning off the lights in their houses? Do you work with larger property owners who have a lot of lighting and can make a big impact by voluntarily turning ’em off?

Nick Liadis: (35:14)
Yeah, so we try to straddle both sides of that coin. We have a, a large number of residential volunteers, almost 70, 75% of the folks that have volunteered categorize themselves as, as residential as opposed to commercial. And that’s pretty large area. Sort of all of the surrounding suburban areas of Pittsburgh about as far as the Laurel Highlands. But we do have a large number of large commercial companies and universities that have volunteered as well. Places like PNC Plaza, BNY Mellon, Carnegie Mellon University’s campus. They actually listed 11 buildings, including their sports complexes on campus, which is huge. That was a component of HB 1803. I was ecstatic to see sports lighting because that’s some of the most egregious that I see traveling in and out of the city and seeing PNC park lit up for no one.

Diane Turnshek: (36:16)
Can I just interject one thing here. Last night I talked to the person in charge of the new Steelers Youth sports stadium that’s going in in Hazelwood, and he said to me, I hate light pollution. I absolutely will make sure this does not happen with the Eagles right across the river. And I was happy to hear that we’re going to follow up in a conversation, but you can do sports lighting, right. And he was on board with that.

Josh Raulerson: (36:45)
That was Diane Turnshek of Carnegie Mellon University and Jon Rice and Nick Liadis of the Carnegie Museums of Natural History and Powdermill Avian Research Center. We just heard the first part of what turned out to be a long and wide ranging conversation about bird safe cities. We’ll bring you the second half of that discussion in a future episode of Pennsylvania Legacies. You can find all of our past episodes, including several others dealing with urban wildlife ecology issues. All on the website at We’ll include links to some of the other content you might wanna check out at, the website for the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, chock full of information on PEC’s activities statewide in the areas of clean energy and sustainability, watershed health and restoration trails and outdoor recreation, and Pennsylvania’s burgeoning outdoor industry. We’re active in many spaces throughout the Commonwealth, and you can find out about what we’ve been up to lately, again, at the website, If you haven’t already, please subscribe to the Pennsylvania Legacies Podcast. You can do so on your podcast platform of choice. We’re on pretty much all of them. Back in a couple of weeks, so with more conversations about Pennsylvania’s environment, protecting and restoring it and enjoying it. Until then, for the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, I’m Josh Raulerson and thanks for listening.