Harvard Law School’s Animal Law & Policy Clinic submitted a letter to Harvard’s Office for Sustainability on Thursday, calling on the school to incorporate bird safety measures into its Sustainable Building Standards.
“Harvard University currently has no mandatory policy in place to ensure that its campus is less deadly to birds,” the letter reads. “Such a policy would promote consistency with the University’s own principles under its 2023 Sustainability Action Plan, as well as the conservation objectives of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.”
The law clinic’s letter pointed out that “other Universities, including Yale, Princeton, Cornell, Duke, Northwestern, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of British Columbia, have already undertaken efforts to make their buildings bird-safe.”
For example, the Yale Bird-Friendly Building Initiative was launched in spring 2022 to increase Yale’s adoption of bird-friendly design, and in August 2022 Cornell published new bird-friendly design and construction standards.
The letter’s signatories — the law clinic, the American Bird Conservancy, Organismic and Evolutionary Biology Department Chair Scott V. Edwards ’86, and Graduate School of Design visiting professor Nina-Marie Lister — also urged the University to formally monitor the campus’s existing bird hazards.
According to the letter, while bird collisions with existing buildings at Harvard are not formally monitored, there is “anecdotal evidence” of bird collisions occurring each year during migratory seasons.
“The current lack of a mandatory bird-safe design policy for new construction leaves the University susceptible to dramatically escalating the numbers of bird deaths caused by its campus,” the letter stated.
Harvard’s Office for Sustainability confirmed receipt of the letter but did not respond to a request for comment.
Allyson N. Gambardella, a rising third-year law student who worked on the letter while a research assistant at the clinic, said that she and recent Law School graduate Rachel Landry — who was also working at the clinic at the time — spoke to a variety of individuals on campus to inform their work.
“We wanted to research and really check in with people across the Harvard community as to the extent to which this was a problem on our campus,” she said.
Gambardella and Landry spoke with landscapers and affiliates at the Graduate School of Design during the drafting process to gain perspective from people “on the ground.”
The law clinic’s push to protect the local bird population came as a result of rising third-year Law School student Jeremiah Scanlan’s final project. Scanlan was a student clinician at the Animal Law & Policy Clinic during the fall of 2022.
“I’d heard that one of the leading causes of death for birds — at least man-made causes — is actually collisions with buildings,” Scanlan said. “It’s also a very solvable problem, people know how to do this. Other universities — even some cities — have thought about doing this.”
“This is just trying to get Harvard to put their money where their mouth is in terms of sustainability because we think this is an issue that they can definitely act on and be a leader in and it’s also very much within reach,” he added.