Glass Collisions

Promote Legislation in Your Community

Vassar Bridge Science Building, N.Y. ©Christine Sheppard

Become a Collisions Advocate in Your Community

Legislation is an essential tool for speeding up the creation of a bird-friendly built environment. People working to reduce collision threats to birds soon realize how difficult it can be to convince a building owner to undertake a retrofit of an existing building. While strides can be taken to reduce threats at especially egregious structures, the most efficient use of your energy may be to ensure that future buildings will be designed to be bird friendly.

Passing legislation is a process that requires patience and perseverance. You must educate the community, recruit allies, understand the local political system and politicians, craft legislation with which the community is comfortable, work to get that legislation introduced and passed, and then work to ensure it is implemented successfully. This may seem like a lot, but passing legislation is doable and is certainly worth the effort, yielding long-lasting, wide-ranging results.

Step 1: Educate Yourself

Begin by making sure that you understand collisions well enough that you can explain the need for bird-friendly design and legislation, that you understand how the solutions work, and that you can confidently share this information and are able to answer questions about it. Start off by reading ABC's free Bird-Friendly Building Design book, Frequently Asked Questions, and the other resources on this site.

Next, create a presentation about the bird collisions problem and its solutions — or personalizeABC's free Powerpoint for your community. Practice on your family and friends to become comfortable presenting the information.

Step 2: Recruit Allies

It is critical that your local community becomes aware that collisions are a real problem — and that there are readily available solutions.

An early step should be determining at which scale you want to work. In other words, where would you like to see legislation adopted? In a town, a county, or a state? Different strategies may be required for each, and each jurisdiction has influence over a different set of buildings.

A good start is to find out if any nearby areas have passed or are considering bird-friendly building legislation.

Next, offer to present your talk to anyone who will listen. Many groups have regular speaker programs and are eager for presenters. You might approach local wildlife conservation organizations, bird and garden clubs, museums, nature centers, reserves, zoos, universities, libraries, and senior centers. All are great places both to spread the word and look for active support.

Be prepared to deal with these questions:

  • How do you know that bird collisions happen in this area?
  • Will bird-friendly buildings be dark, with no light and no view?
  • Will we have to give up creative design? Are bird-friendly buildings ugly?
  • Will implementing bird-friendly design increase the cost of new construction?
  • Will we need to hire and train new staff to implement the requirements?
  • Will bird-friendly design interfere with sustainability goals for a building?

ABC's Glass Collisions program's Frequently Asked Questions can help with the answers!

While talking to these groups, try to enlist them as supporters for your effort, whether or not you end up giving them a presentation. Let them know that, when the time is right, you would like them to contact officials on behalf of their organizations and use their networks to help create a groundswell of public support.

Look for media opportunities. Send an editorial to the local newspaper or newspapers, try to get collisions media coverage relating to collisions during spring/fall migration or a collision monitoring group, or you could enlist a professional conservationist (university professor, nature center, etc.) to be interviewed.

Collisions legislation is much easier if you have a group of allies to build public support, act as sounding boards, share the work, and add insight and connections. A word of caution: Make sure that you speak with one voice from the start. The likelihood of success is reduced if local officials receive conflicting messages from the conservation community about what the legislation should do. (You can expect some opposition from developers – if possible, find one who is sympathetic to the cause to help with communication with this group.)

Step 3: Draft Your Legislation

Before you draft your legislation, fine-tune the details. Then, when you are confident of the tack you want to take, start writing. Ideally, you would propose that the legislation require that all new buildings be constructed entirely of bird-friendly materials. Unfortunately, such a proposition is not likely to pass. You can start with that, but be prepared to compromise, and decide where you think compromise is acceptable. This means being pragmatic and understanding if there is push-back. With this in mind, an important part of your plan should be an acceptable fallback position.

For the specifics of drafting effective legislation, please visit our Model & Existing Legislation and How to Write Your Own page.

Getting the wording right is crucial. If you would like help designing or editing legislation, please contact ABC's Glass Collisions Director Christine Sheppard, or the program's Manager, Bryan Lenz.

Step 4: Delve Into Politics

To start off, investigate the political system in your area of operation. Which decision-making body/bodies would have to approve bird-friendly legislation? What is the best way to position your legislation — as a code change, a law, a guideline, or something else?

Test the waters by discussing the issue with your local representatives. Do your best to get in-person meetings. Do not be discouraged if you have to send multiple emails or make multiple phone calls: Remember, persistence is often key in shaping policy. Also try to connect with groups that have successfully supported this kind of legislation in other regions. A list is provided here.

Try to locate all of the relevant committees and sub-committees, and try to learn about the interests and environmental records of individual legislators. This is critical, as you will need to enlist at least one legislator to sponsor the legislation. Eventually, your goal should be to make personal contact with all relevant decision-makers – and don't forget that legislators' support teams can be very influential and helpful.

Stay in touch with your elected officials (or the appropriate staffer) to discuss progress, how you can help them, and when a vote might be possible. And whenever the ordinance is discussed in session, have as many people there as possible to offer public comment, or to testify. This type of clear, vocal support makes a huge difference.

Once you have a proposed version of your legislation, create a letter of support that your partners can distribute through their networks, so that people can contact their elected officials to tell them how important bird-friendly buildings are to them. Strong support from constituents is great motivation for elected officials.

You might find yourself following our outline backwards, or doing multiple things simultaneously, depending on your community or even serendipity. If you know someone who knows someone, that can be a great place to start.

Take Action for Birds

ABC is working hard to make federal buildings bird friendly. Join us today and ask Congress to pass the Bird-Safe Buildings Act!

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