Posts Tagged ‘sky lanterns’

Photo: Jon Sullivan,

Photo: Jon Sullivan,

As a family, we’ve spent most Independence Days here at home, barbecuing in the afternoon or evening and setting off fireworks after dark. Because we’re homebodies, we don’t usually see the aftermath of the fireworks except for the bits of burned cardboard left in our yard.

But there was that one time when our kids were younger…the one time we spent it at the home of friends instead of friends coming to our place…that opened my eyes regarding fireworks and their effect on our environment. Driving home that night, there was smoke everywhere. From one side of our town to the other, nothing but toxic smoke just hanging in the air.

While my eyes did begin to open that night, I must admit I didn’t immediately change my ways. I was still mostly “asleep” back then when it came to issues like protecting the world around us and the creatures who can’t speak for themselves. But it was a start, a gradual awakening that’s been continuing over the years. While my family will still be setting off some fireworks this year, it won’t be as big a show as it’s been in the past, and I’ll be putting my foot down on certain types (floating lanterns, for one).

Another thing I never considered in my earlier years, I’m so sorry to say, was the effect of the day’s loud noises on birds and other animals. But these days I do worry about wildlife on the 4th of July, one reason being that this is still “baby season.” Birds and other animals are still having young, and there are also many fledgling birds and young squirrels, raccoons, foxes, and cottontails (the list goes on) born in the spring for whom this scary day will be a first. I have to wonder how many young are separated from their parents before their time, orphaned because the loud booms cause them or their parents to scatter in fear.


I’d like to offer some tips for making the 4th more wildlife-friendly, but let’s first talk about how it can harm them.

1. The loud booms startle birds and other animals who have already gone to sleep for the night. If you have pets, you probably do what I do and make sure they’re in a safe place inside your home where the noises won’t scare them too much. (You do keep your pets inside on the 4th, don’t you? More dogs run away and are lost on the 4th of July than any other day of the year.) I even put on the radio for my pets to mask the noise of the fireworks from around my neighborhood. It’s not possible, obviously, to protect wildlife from the noise or the smoke…or even a fire should an accident happen.

2. The extreme amount of litter left over from fireworks not only looks terrible, but it can also be mistaken for food. This especially concerns me regarding fireworks displays on lakes and ocean waterfronts. I go outside with a garbage bag in the early morning on July 5 to clean up our yard, but how do you clean up a body of water? You can’t. (Well, you could try, but you won’t come close to getting it all.) The litter either floats or sinks, and the smaller pieces can be easily mistaken for food by birds like ducks or cormorants or by the fish below.

3. Sky lanterns. I really don’t think I need to say more. Does anyone actually think these things are safe? I remember one year when I reluctantly let one of my kids let one go: I almost had a heart attack when it came close to landing in the neighbor’s tree. Thankfully, it rose higher, but almost settled onto other trees before being carried up, up, and away. (I watched it until the fire went out.) Not only are these lanterns extreme fire hazards, the resulting litter can also harm wildlife, pets, and farm animals. Please read this very important article from Balloons Blow: Sky Lanterns (Flaming Litter). A type of firework that’s let loose and out of sight into the sky with no knowledge of where it will end up is one of the worst, and is a very irresponsible way to celebrate anything. And as I just mentioned, I have been one of those irresponsible people.

Sky lanterns seem innocent but are extremely dangerous and unpredictable. Photo courtesy of Balloons Blow.

Sky lanterns seem innocent but are extremely dangerous and unpredictable. Photo courtesy of Balloons Blow.

Finally, here are some safer and more wildlife-friendly ways to celebrate the 4th:

1. Go to a public display instead of shooting off fireworks at home. Here in the Seattle area, many fireworks displays are done over water (mainly over Lake Washington and Lake Union), but if more people would attend these than set off their own (and many already do), I guess that’s at least something. Here are listings for 4th of July celebrations around the Pacific Northwest:

    Bellingham area (This article even lists clean-up events on July 5. Way to go, Bellingham!)

2. Stay home and keep a hose or two ready. And a fire extinguisher. Whether you’re setting off fireworks or your neighbors are, being ready to put out a wayward trajectory on your roof or a fire in your shrubbery or grass is just smart.

3. Don’t make homemade sparkler bombs. They’re powerful and unpredictable. You could also get in big trouble if you’re caught. This one really goes along with number 4:

4. Don’t set off M80s, cherry bombs, and the like. You may get lucky and not get hurt, or you may lose a hand. Or worse. (And please don’t let your kids hold roman candles while they’re going off. Do you really want your child holding the one that malfunctions and blows up in the tube?) Besides the possibility of harm or death coming to the humans who use bombs, or mortars stuffed in tubes, innocent bystanders – human and wildlife alike – are often harmed, as well.

5. Watch fireworks on TV. Not as much fun, I know, but it is safer and your pets will appreciate the company.

6. Pray for rain. Western Washington has gotten pretty waterlogged over the last several weeks, and for that I am grateful. If you’re in an area that hasn’t gotten much rain and is dryer than we are, pay particular attention to number 2, above.

Have a safe and fun 4th of July, however you choose to celebrate. Remember, please consider the effects your celebration will have on wildlife who live near you and trust your yard to be a safe place.

What ideas can you share for a safe-for-all Independence Day?

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