The measure limits outdoor lighting in an effort to prevent endangered birds — and Maui has some of the rarest in the world — from crashing into lighted buildings. But Bill 21, signed into law last week, is ruffling feathers because its provisions could also keep flagpoles, church steeples, swimming pools and even luaus dark.
“People have told me they’ve seen birds fall to the ground in town, across the country, everywhere,” said the bill’s author, Kelly Takaya King, who chairs the Maui County Council’s Climate Action, Resilience and Environment Committee.
Maui is a veritable Eden for species such as the wedge-tailed shearwater, white-tailed tropicbird, brown booby, myna, kiwikiu, and nene – the state bird and most common goose. rare in the world.
However, the island is also home to some 170,000 people and the new law pits bird paradise against human paradise. The ordinance imposes a near-total ban on upward-bright exterior lighting and limits short-wavelength blue light content. Similar laws are in effect in many jurisdictions across the country to protect various local interests, including the night sky in Arizona and the wilderness in New Hampshire. Maui has a more complicated set of priorities.
Outdoor lighting restrictions effectively prohibit nighttime hula dancing and luau shows — local cultural signatures. Interior alternatives are not practical. “Guests don’t want to be in a ballroom or a closed facility — they can go to Detroit and do it,” Debbie Weil-Manuma, president of a local tourism company, wrote in a letter of objection.
At the same time, Maui is grappling with an invasive species that arrives in groups of up to 35,000 a day: tourists. Local officials are considering capping hotels and vacation rentals.
Birds can become disoriented by artificial light, sometimes mistaking it for moonlight, and end up slamming against building windows or circling until exhausted. On a single night in May 2017, 398 migrating birds – including warblers, grosbeaks and swallowtail birds – flew into the spotlight of an office tower in Galveston, Texas. Only three survived. This danger is why the Empire State Building in New York, the former John Hancock Center in Chicago and other iconic skyscrapers now darken at night during peak periods of bird migration.
A large building. A dark and stormy night. 395 dead birds.
Yet most mass bird deaths occur in urban centers with tall, high-density buildings. Maui is rural, and its kalana, or county office building, is only nine stories tall.
Jack Curran, a New Jersey lighting consultant who assessed the science behind the bill, said the council “obviously didn’t do their homework.” The bill also requires lighted surfaces to be non-reflective, with a matte surface if painted. As the island is covered in conforming black paint, Curran joked, “Maui will end up looking like Halloween.”
Even regulatory support is fractured. “This bill offers some good benefits,” said Jordan Molina, Maui’s director of public works, “but it doesn’t have to be recklessly done.” The new law, he added, will make his office the “blue police”.
Although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not oppose the bill, it recommended creating a habitat conservation plan unless the county could design a foolproof lighting policy.
According to the public records, the advice relied on a single non-peer-reviewed study funded by an Arizona company, C&W Energy Solutions, which lobbied for the bill. (County attorneys issued a memorandum in July warning of the “potentially serious conflict of interest,” which the board ignored.) And King’s efforts were propelled in part by the lawsuit from conservation groups alleging lights of a luxury hotel disoriented at least 15 endangered petrels. between 2008 and 2021, resulting in the death of at least one petrel. (In contrast, the Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project focused on “continued depredation by feral cats,” which number in the thousands on the island.)
The measure’s conflicting exemptions are still at issue. For example, lights at public golf courses, tennis courts, and school sporting events are permitted, but lights at hotel-owned golf courses or tennis courts are not. Conventional string lights are permitted for holidays and cultural festivals, but must be “fully shielded” for all other uses, including weddings. The county fair is also exempt. The same goes for emergency services and emergency road repairs.
The law will prevent TV and movie crew night lights, such as those used by “Hawaii Five-O,” “NCIS: Hawai’i,” and “The White Lotus.” The latter was honored in October by the Maui County Film Office for giving the island national and international recognition.
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King told local media that compliant lights are widely available online. But when asked for online links to such bulbs recently, his office only sent one — for a bedside nightlight that can double as an outdoor bug lamp, though it isn’t. clear if the bulb meets all the specifications of the prescription.
“Appropriate lighting is not available,” King conceded then.. “We hope it will be in the next few years. When you pass a lot of these environmental laws, you kind of have to go step by step to get them passed.
As passed, the bill explicitly removed exemptions for field harvesting, security lighting on beaches operated by hotels or condominiums, security lighting for bodies of water, motion sensor lighting and lighting on state or federal property – including Maui’s harbors and even runway lights at its airports.
Council member Shane Sinenci supported the final arrangements. “Our unique biodiversity is what makes us attractive to both visitors and residents,” the Maui News quoted him as saying ahead of the final vote. “We often underestimate the value of a healthy ecosystem and all the benefits that come with it.”
The law comes into force in July for new lighting and requires existing lighting to be compliant by 2026.
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