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{HARRISBURG} — The city’s participation in Lights Out Harrisburg, along with creating bird and bat boxes for wildlife, and its semi-annual tree planting, including one happening this week, highlight Harrisburg’s great environmental programs it showcased at an Earth Day press event on Monday.

The first season of the annual Lights Out Harrisburg program began April 1 at the start of peak spring migration and runs through May 31 when most winged migrants will have passed through Harrisburg. In the fall, Lights Out Harrisburg and peak migration will occur between Aug. 15 and Nov. 15 as birds travel south. Although the request is for lights out during these peak migration periods, light pollution is something to consider all year for Pennsylvania’s resident birds.

Each year birds pass through southcentral Pennsylvania during spring and fall while migrating between their breeding and wintering grounds. Many never complete their epic journey because they are killed when they fly into buildings and windows, confused by the bright artificial lights and glass.  

 “This voluntary program involves turning off or blocking as many external and internal building lights as possible at night during migration seasons when birds are passing through the city and state capitol in large numbers,” Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn said. “We invite businesses and residents in the city to join in to help ensure the safety of birds, which are a critical part of our ecosystems and essential to supporting life on this planet.”

Harrisburg joins Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and more than 45 other cities nationwide, and several statewide or regional areas with Lights Out programs. The National Audubon Society, along with partners, established the first Lights Out program in 1999 in Chicago. 

The Pennsylvania Department of General Services (DGS) is removing the spotlights from the Capitol Dome and turning out the lights in the atrium of the Keystone Building. Frequent messaging campaigns will also be conducted with all building tenants in the complex to ensure that lights are turned off at the end of the day.

In addition to its participation in the Lights Out initiative, the City of Harrisburg is also highlighting other environmental programs. During the 2023-24 school year, the City is partnering with the Harrisburg School District’s 5th grade science class at Melrose Academy. Through this collaboration, students are focusing on conservation efforts and learning about different environmental jobs. Students are building bluebird boxes donated by the Bluebird Society of Pennsylvania. This project not only teaches students about ornithology and environmental science, but also raises awareness about the threats facing bluebird populations in certain regions of the US. These bluebird boxes have been installed in Reservoir Park, with plans for additional boxes along the Greenbelt.

The City is also partnering with the Audubon Society to offer bird walks through Reservoir Park, Wilson Park, and City Island. These walks are designed to encourage residents to connect with nature and explore the diverse birdlife in our parks. City staff and bird experts will guide participants through the parks, providing insights into birdwatching and the importance of biodiversity. Also, summer camps run by the City of Harrisburg Department of Parks & Recreation will have programs focused on educating campers about native Pennsylvania animals, pollinators, and a focus on our local watershed, the Susquehanna River. These programs aim to instill a sense of stewardship for our natural environment while providing hands-on learning experiences for our community members.

“Overall, these initiatives demonstrate our commitment to environmental education, conservation, and community engagement, as we strive to create a more sustainable and vibrant city for all residents,” said City of Harrisburg Sustainability Coordinator Danielle Lewis.

The timing of Earth Day coincides with more of Harrisburg’s great environmental programs to make the city more environmentally friendly. The ongoing dredging project at Italian Lake is aiming to remove trash, debris, and other harmful sediments like animal feces from the lake bed. This will provide a cleaner environment for wildlife and plant life to flourish.

Also, later this week, from April 25-27, more than two dozen trees will be planted in the neighborhood near Wilson Park. This tree planting, coinciding with Arbor Day, is the city’s second tree planting this spring. It is part of the city’s semi-annual tree planting to replenish the city’s tree canopy, which provides necessary shade and increases oxygen levels in the area.

“Under my administration, we have made it a priority to make Harrisburg cleaner and greener than ever before,” said Mayor Wanda R.D. Williams. “There are so many great examples of how our city is proving to be the leader is environmental initiatives throughout Pennsylvania.”