Big Cities, Bright Lights And Up To 1 Billion Bird Collisions

One World Trade Center (WTC) stands in the lower Manhattan skyline as birds fly over the Hudson River in Hoboken, New Jersey, on Feb. 8, 2019.

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Up to 1 billion birds die from building collisions each year in the United States, and according to a new study, bright lights in big cities are making the problem worse.

The study, published this month in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, examined two-decades of satellite data and weather radar technology to determine which cities are the most dangerous for birds. The study focused on light pollution levels, because wherever birds can become attracted to and disoriented by lights, the more likely they are to crash into buildings.

The study found that the most fatal bird strikes are happening in Chicago. Houston and Dallas are the next cities to top the list as the most lethal. One of the study’s authors, Kyle Horton, a postdoctoral fellow at Cornell University, called the cities a “hotspot of migratory action,” adding, “they are sitting in this primary central corridor that most birds are moving through spring and fall.”

New York City, Los Angeles, St. Louis and Minneapolis are also dangerous cities for birds, all in the top 10 of the list for both migration periods.

Collisions are the most prevalent during the two migration periods, one in the spring and one in the fall. More than 4 billion birds migrate across the United States per migration period, according to Horton.

For Chicago, more than 250 different bird species migrate through the city, adding up to 5 million overall for each migration period.

“Many of these birds are already in serious decline for other reasons,” said Annette Prince, director of the Chicago Bird Collision Monitors, a local conservation group. “So when they’re hitting buildings, this is adding to the loss of the healthy members of their species by needless collision.”

Prince’s organization finds 5,000 to 6,000 birds per year in the 1-square-mile they search in downtown Chicago. Sixty percent of the birds they find are dead upon impact.

Another study published last week found that some bird species are more likely to fall suspect to building collisions. Songbirds that produce faint chirps – called flight calls – during nighttime migration collide with lit buildings more often than other species that don’t produce the chirps, according to a study by researchers at the University of Michigan. This is because data shows the birds disoriented by the artificial light send out flight calls, luring other birds to their inevitable death.

In recent years, there have been efforts to cut down on lethal collisions of birds into skyscrapers. The National Audubon Society runs a “Lights Out” campaign and partners with local chapters to promote individuals to turn off their lights from 11 p.m. to dawn during migration periods.

Prince said reducing urban light is extremely important in the effort to cut down on building collisions.

“At night when the majority of these birds migrate they have a fatal attraction to the urban areas,” she said.

But suburban areas are also impacted.

“It’s not just the skyscrapers that are the issue, it could be, you know, residences,” Horton said. “So if you can turn off your lights it can make a difference at a local level as well.”

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology also has a map showing bird migrations in real time, so individuals can go onto the website and see when they should turn off their lights.

“It’s within our power to make sure that we give these birds a better chance,” Prince said. “They really do deserve a better fate.”

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Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen Leaving Post

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen testifies on Capitol Hill March 6. She resigned from her post on Sunday.

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Updated at 6:18p.m. ET

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is leaving her post, President Trump announced Sunday as he continues to focus on restricting border crossings amid a recent surge. Nielsen had recently warned a congressional panel of a “catastrophe” on the southern border after the number of crossings hit a 10-year high.

Trump confirmed the news in a tweet, saying, “I would like to thank her for her service.”

Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen will be leaving her position, and I would like to thank her for her service….

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 7, 2019

Trump said Kevin McAleenan, the current commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, would serve as acting secretary. The change at the top comes with other uncertainty over management at DHS. The president on Friday dropped his nominee to lead Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Ronald Vitiello, telling reporters, “We want to go in a tougher direction.”

Often the primary person working to turn President Trump’s harsh immigration rhetoric into policy, Nielsen has faced intense scrutiny. As recently as March, she faced tough questioning from House Democrats over the treatment of migrants, especially children, at the southern border.

Nielsen is Trump’s second secretary of Homeland Security, taking over the cabinet post in Dec. 2017 after John Kelly became White House chief of staff. Nielsen had worked as a top aide to Kelly at both DHS and the White House.

Her tenure was marked throughout by tensions with President Trump, who reportedly lashed out at her several times because illegal border crossings have not been stopped. Nielsen faced more public pressure after the Trump administration enacted a policy of family separation that resulted in thousands of migrant children being separated from their parents, and which the president ultimately reversed.

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On The Navajo Reservation, Turning From Coal To Renewables

After decades of dependency on coal for jobs, the Navajo Nation is turning to renewables. Two utility-scale solar farms have been built in recent years and another one is in the works.

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Laurel Morales/KJZZ

The Navajo and Hopi have fought hard to hold onto coal.

Three generations have worked for the the west’s largest coal-fired power plant, the Navajo Generating Station. The tribes have relied heavily on its revenue. So when the Phoenix-based Salt River Project announced it was shutting down the plant at the end of the year, the tribe scrambled to find a buyer or — as a last resort — purchase the plant themselves.

It finally came down to a vote late last month at a Navajo Nation Council Special Session meeting. The delegates deliberated for eight hours.

“Are we ready?” Delegate Nathaniel Brown said. “Are we ready for the shutdown? I don’t think we are. We stand to lose a lot, our children the future generation.”

Delegate Charlaine Tso said she’s done with coal and its health impacts on her people. The plant is one of the country’s biggest carbon emitters.

“Shame on you,” Tso said. “Money money money. It’s replaceable. Enough is enough. This is the time that we’re going to take a stand that we’re going to come together for our people. I am ready to take on that challenge.”

Other delegates pointed out that many energy companies were moving away from coal in favor of cleaner and cheaper energy sources.

The council finally voted against the purchase.

The Navajo Generating Station will shut down at the end of this year. The west’s largest coal-fired power plants is an economic engine but it’s also one of the region’s largest carbon emitters. The plant will shut down at the end of this year.

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End of an era of resource extraction

That decision marks the end of an era. Before coal, many tribal members worked with the federal government to blast uranium out of the Navajo Nation to make atomic weapons.

“The Navajo economy had been kinda built upon resource extraction,” said Brett Isaac, who grew up next to the Peabody Kayenta Coal Mine. “I still have an uncle that works for the Peabody Energy Company. I’ve had other uncles and cousins and friends and … You had a lot of people who that’s the only industry and job they ever knew.”

Brett Isaac, one of the founders of Navajo Power, a renewable energy company that’s trying to help the tribe shift away from coal.

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So a decade ago, when Isaac started installing off-grid solar panels in people’s homes, people looked at him funny.

“But my family have more recently gotten more supportive with the way the world and global economy is moving towards a more renewable focus,” Isaac said, laughing. “They’re motivated by the fact I got in so early, into it before it was cool.”

Now Isaac and a group of entrepreneurs have formed Navajo Power, a renewable energy company that’s trying to help the tribe shift away from coal. The tribe has built two utility-sized solar farms already. And it’s working on a third.

“It takes the benefit of something that’s abundant and converts it into something useable,” Isaac said. “So that aligns a lot not only with Navajo philosophy, but a lot of indigenous communities about how you responsibly source things.”

There’s just one problem. The number of jobs at a solar farm can’t compare to coal. The plant and mine supplied 800 of the best-paying jobs on the Navajo Nation and many more support jobs.

Solar on the other hand requires hundreds of temporary employees to construct the farm, but after it’s built the sun does most of the work. That’s a tough sell to a tribe where half of the people are unemployed.

But Isaac envisions solar farms sprouting up faster than corn on the vast reservation. And has hopes they could build a manufacturing facility to assemble the panels.

“It starts with embracing change,” said Navajo President Jonathan Nez, who’s on board with the idea.

He just signed a proclamation to make renewable energy the tribe’s top priority. But he’s also realistic. He knows the tribe has to invest in other economic engines, like tourism.

“People all over the world come to Navajo,” Nez said. “If we could keep some of our visitors here on the Navajo Nation a little longer, that’s going to bring dollars and jobs.”

He said ultimately they have to think about cleaner jobs and a cleaner environment for their children and their grandchildren.

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American Woman And Her Driver Freed From Kidnappers, Ugandan Police Say

An American woman kidnapped in Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park has been rescued, Ugandan police said on Sunday.

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Ugandan police announced on Sunday that they have rescued an American woman and her driver after the two were kidnapped last week while on safari.

The Uganda Police Force said on Twitter that it had worked with security agencies to rescue the 35-year-old California woman and her Ugandan tour guide. Both were in “good health,” according to police.

The Ugandan government and U.S. media outlets have identified the woman as Kimberly Sue Endicott. The Ugandan government identified the driver as Jean Paul Mirenge.

Four men allegedly abducted the pair from their vehicle at gunpoint last Tuesday during an evening game drive at Queen Elizabeth National Park in southwestern Uganda and demanded $500,000 ransom, police said. Four other tourists were left “abandoned and unharmed,” according to the Uganda Media Centre.

Police did not offer further details about how the two were freed, and it’s not clear if a ransom was paid. Citing the safari company with which they were traveling, The New York Times reported on Sunday that a ransom had in fact been paid.

“Pleased to report that the American tourist and tour guide that were abducted in Uganda have been released,” President Trump tweeted Sunday. “God bless them and their families!”

Ugandan politicians have stressed that the area where the two were taken is peaceful and encouraged tourists to continue to visit. In a press release last week, police said the kidnapping was the first “incident of this kind” for the park and its surroundings, located near the country’s border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Frank Tumwebaze, Uganda’s cabinet minister of information technology, wrote on Twitter Sunday that the country is “very safe.”

“Our parks have been the most secure zones over the years and they remain so,” he wrote. “Isolated criminal incidents like this particular one, can happen any where in the world. Every challenge helps us to improve our readiness.”

The U.S. Embassy in Uganda last week urged visitors to “exercise caution when traveling to this area due to ongoing security activity.”

News of the kidnapping came during a week when U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told families of Americans held captive overseas that the U.S. “cannot accept” the risk of paying ransom in exchange for the return of individuals.

“Even a small payment to a group in, say, Africa can facilitate the killing or seizure of tens or even hundreds of others, including Americans or foreign nationals in that region,” Pompeo said.

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Police Are Investing In New Technology. ‘Thin Blue Lie’ Asks, ‘Does It Work?’

In 2014, Michael Brown, an 18-year old unarmed black man, was fatally shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo.

In the four months that followed, the stock price of the stun-gun maker Taser International, now known as Axon Enterprise, nearly doubled.

The following year, the Department of Justice launched a pilot program awarding more than $23.2 million in grants to expand the use of body cameras worn by police officers across the country.

Today, these types of technologies are often touted by law enforcement officials and policy makers as ways to improve policing and avoid tragic and controversial incidents.

But as their use becomes more common, to what extent are they actually solving the problems they’ve set out to fix?

That’s the question investigative reporter Matt Stroud explores in his new book, The Thin Blue Lie: The Failure of High Tech Policing.

In the book, Stroud argues that for decades, politicians and law enforcement have often opted for quick, easy solutions to correct for problematic policing practices, rather than adopt more systematic overhauls. As a result, issues like excessive force have never been solved, he says.

“You have a system that is in place and you have officers who have often been on the job for 20 or 30 years, who were in leadership positions and they don’t want to change,” Stroud tells Michel Martin in an interview for NPR’s All Things Considered.

One approach examined closely by Stroud is law enforcement’s use of stun guns, which have been a part of the conversation around police reform since the late 1960s.

One of the first police departments to use stun guns was the Los Angeles Police Department, which adopted the weapon after facing heavy criticism surrounding a 1979 police shooting.

A policeman holds a stun gun on April 4, 2003.

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Graeme Robertson/Getty Images

“It was kind of the first time that this kind of weapon was used as a solution — was presented as a non-lethal solution in the wake of an incident involving a police killing,” Stroud says.

Over the course of his research, Stroud says he found numerous examples of many stun gun related deaths. In 2018 alone, at least 49 people died after being shocked by police with stun guns, according to a Reuters analysis.

“The data has shown that Tasers do not reduce the number of firearms that are used on the streets and they have been shown to be lethal. So in that way they have failed to do what they were pitched to do,” Stroud says.

A normal shock from a stun gun lasts five seconds. But as Stroud notes, “When police officers pull the trigger over and over and over again to make that Taser shock last five seconds, and 10 seconds, and 25 seconds, that’s when they become really dangerous.”

For his research, Stroud says he allowed himself to be stunned in his back for five seconds.

“It hurt. It’s it’s like a charlie horse that takes over your entire body. You can’t move,” he says. “It felt like I was never gonna be able to move again.”

A body camera from Taser is seen during a press conference on Sept. 24, 2014 in Washington, DC.

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BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Another technology examined by Stroud is the police body camera. It’s an innovation with well-placed intentions, argues Stroud, but often he says, its potential goes unfulfilled.

Even though body cameras have been shown in studies not to influence police officers’ use of force, Stroud says that body cameras can help bring transparency to police interactions, especially in the aftermath of controversial officer-involved shootings.

For example, after the 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald, body-cam footage was released showing the black teen being shot 16 times. This past January, the former Chicago police officer, Jason Van Dyke was sentenced to 81 months in prison for McDonald’s death.

The problem, Stroud says, is that body-cam footage is not always made public.

“Where problems emerge is when government officials and police officials push back against making that footage public,” he says.

When it is made public, he says it’s often offered as exculpatory evidence.

“It ends up becoming a promotional vehicle rather than something that is designed to force transparency and show the truth,” says Stroud.

Instead of investing millions of dollars into equipment like body cameras and stun guns, Stroud proposes a non-technological solution to problems like excessive use of force.

He points to a 1967 report from the U.S. Department of Justice that recommended, among other things, greater community involvement, increased hiring of minority police officers and better training on the use of force.

While Stroud acknowledges that some of these changes have occurred over the past several decades, he believes reforms have still not gone far enough. Since there are around 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the U.S., Stroud argues change needs to happen on a much broader scale.

“Unless you have some major event or leader that emerges in policing in the United States who forces this kind of change, then it’s not going to happen.”

This story was produced and edited for broadcast by Elizabeth Baker and Martha Wexler.

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Flooding In Iran Kills At Least 70, Forces Evacuation Of Thousands

A man stands in mud in the city of Mamulan in Iran’s Lorestan Province. Heavy rain and unprecedented flooding has killed at least 70 people in Iran since mid-March.

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Flooding in Iran has killed at least 70 people, and forced the mass evacuation of thousands, as heavy rain continues to fall on much of the country.

Mansoureh Bagheri, Director of International Relations at the Iranian Red Crescent Society, spoke with NPR from Tehran, Iran. “Since March 16, we’ve started three rounds of rainfall in Iran. It started from the north part of Iran, and I can say it engaged the whole provinces. Out of 31 provinces, almost 24 provinces have been impacted by the severe rainfall,” Bagheri said.

The floods occurred during Iran’s new year holiday of Norwuz, and left many stranded. The state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reports floods killed people across 13 provinces. According to IRNA, “The disaster began with heavy rainfalls in the northern provinces of Iran since March 19, and continued across Iran with flash floods in southern, central and western provinces.”

Iran’s Mehr News Agency reports some 1,900 cities and villages have been flooded, “causing hundreds of millions of dollars of damage to Iranian water and agriculture infrastructures.”

Bagheri told NPR, “The destruction is high. I can say regarding the agriculture, regarding the infrastructure, regarding the livelihood, the impact is high.”

CNN reports more than 140 rivers have burst their banks; 409 landslides have been reported; 78 roads have been blocked; and 84 bridges have been affected.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry has said U.S. sanctions on Iran are blocking humanitarian aid to flood-hit areas.

FAKE NEWS: @SecPompeo claim that US “ready to assist @ifrc, which would direct money through Iranian Red Crescent for relief”

REAL NEWS: As @ICRC President noted, Iranian Red Crescent can’t receive any funds due to illegal US sanctions. US should own up to its ECONOMIC TERRORISM pic.twitter.com/rFjVDdrc4O

— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) April 2, 2019

On April 2, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement on the flooding in Iran:

“These floods once again show the level of Iranian regime mismanagement in urban planning and in emergency preparedness. The regime blames outside entities when, in fact, it is their mismanagement that has led to this disaster,” he said. “The United States stands ready to assist and contribute to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which would then direct the money through the Iranian Red Crescent for relief.”

Bagheri told NPR sanctions are having an impact on donations to the IFRC. “The sanctions actually impede their receiving international donations from the international community, and also from Iranians living abroad,” he said.

Al Jazeera reports that dozens of villages and towns in southern Iran have been evacuated as authorities issue warnings for more flooding in regions bordering Iraq. According to Al Jazeera, Iraq officially closed the Chazabeh border crossing after Iranian authorities banned travelling and trade through the border in the southern province of Khuzestan.

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