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Developers sue over bird-friendly building code

bird-friendly building
An American Robin, the state bird of Wisconsin, looks in a window. Photo by Heather Tillema/Shutterstock

A group of Madison, Wisconsin-area developers, led by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL), is mounting the first-ever legal challenge to a bird-friendly building ordinance (Dane County Case Number 2021CV001729). This is concerning news for conservation groups including American Bird Conservancy (ABC), which has worked diligently for years to promote life-saving bird-friendly building design legislation and to reduce the threat of window collisions to birds.

“We’ve long understood that suburban development is a threat to birds, but developers suing to attack bird protection is a new low,” says Mike Parr, ABC’s President. “People want to live around birds and nature, not see them wiped out by developers.”

On August 4, 2020, the Madison Common Council unanimously adopted Wisconsin’s first bird-friendly building ordinance, which was introduced by Alders Marsha Rummel and Keith Furman, drafted by city staff, and revised with input from ABC and Madison Audubon Society. The city-wide ordinance requires new large construction and expansion projects to use bird-safe strategies and materials. It has been in effect, without issue or contention, since October 1, 2020.

Each year in the United States, up to 1 billion birds die following collisions with glass — that’s approximately 2.7 million birds each day. These deaths are largely preventable through the use of bird-friendly design, a set of practices that includes reducing the total amount of glass, which also saves energy and greenhouse gas emissions, and using bird-friendly building materials that help birds avoid flying into buildings, including glass with subtle patterns or other properties that make it visible to birds, solar shading, and insect screens.

Twenty-two bird-friendly building design guidelines have been adopted by states and municipalities in the U.S. and Canada, and many more are currently pending. Cook County, Illinois (2008); Toronto, Ontario (2009); and San Francisco, California (2011) first enacted their guidelines over a decade ago. Bird-friendly design is also a part of many green building guidelines, including U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program.

This is the first legal challenge to any of these guidelines.

“WILL’s lawsuit is unfortunate,” says ABC’s Bird Collisions Program Manager Dr. Bryan Lenz. “Their first-of-its-kind challenge to a bird-friendly building ordinance is more or less a lawsuit aimed at overturning the will of the citizens of Madison, Wisconsin, so that the construction community does not have to take reasonable actions to keep their buildings from killing the city’s wildlife. Designing buildings so that they do not kill birds is the right thing to do because protecting birds is the right thing to do.”

According to Matt Reetz, Executive Director of Madison Audubon: “Birds matter. They contribute billions of dollars to our economy through nature recreation and provide free ecosystem services, like pest control. Plus, they bring joy and emotional health benefits to people everywhere. We have to invest in their protection — it’s not a luxury, it’s an absolute necessity.”

WILL’s lawsuit will be fought by the City of Madison in the coming months. Given the suit’s potential to influence similar future ordinances throughout the state, Wisconsin’s bird champions, including ABC, encourage the city in its effort to defend against the suit.

Members of the public are invited to sign Madison Audubon’s online petition to show their support for wildlife and birds in Madison and beyond: https://madisonaudubon.org/bird-safe-glass/#act

Thanks to American Bird Conservancy for providing this news.

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American Bird Conservancy

American Bird Conservancy

American Bird Conservancy is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization whose mission is to conserve native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. It contributes the “Eye on Conservation” column in each issue of BirdWatching.

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