Ah, the Fourth of July. It is nearly upon us and with it we begin to hear the familiar pop, pop, pop of fire crackers grow louder and more incessant as the that fateful night grows nigh.
When I was a little girl, I recall the pure, visceral terror caused by the loud blasts, booms and crashes of the gigantic, colorful fireworks that graced the skies above a park near my grandparents’ home. My poor mother eventually grew tired of tightly cupping my ears and suddenly they were met with the crashing explosions head on. And all I could do was run. But I couldn’t escape the terrifying sounds that came from everywhere.
For many years, we tried to go as a family to the park to watch the traditional fireworks and for many years, my mother was forced to take me home, away from the fearsome kabooms.
When I was older and better able to overcome my fear, I looked with empathetic pity at the dogs in our family over the years and how affected they were by these frightening noises. Often, even with just the occasional pop of a neighborhood fire cracker, we’d find a huge, quaking lab or golden retriever in our laps, shivering in mortal fear.
One year we left our golden for the evening of the fourth, only to return home to find that he’d raked the wooden door of my mom’s cousin’s century old farmhouse nearly to threads and dug a gaping hole into a guest bed, stuffing littered the bedroom as documentation of his reaction to being left alone with the sounds of the end of the world exploding outside. We felt horrible.
So as much as it scares us or our poor, unwitting pets, what about the wildlife? Ranging up to 190 decibels, the noise of fireworks can cause great fear, stress and anxiety in wildlife. And there’s certainly no one to console or comfort them who can convey that it’s really not anything to be afraid of. But, just as I did when I was young, animals that are faced with loud, unexplained explosions will often flee. Blinded by fear, it’s not uncommon for wildlife to run into roadways and get struck in their flee from the pandemonium.
“During times of widespread fireworks use, wildlife rehabilitation centers receive an increase in calls from the public reporting wildlife on the roads and wildlife being seen in unusual areas.” –West Sound Wildlife Shelter
As a result of panic and disorientation caused by fireworks ruckus, birds are known to fly into windows and buildings, or even too far out to sea to escape the commotion. Consider that most birds wouldn’t normally take flight in the dark, but the fear of fireworks blasts cause them to blindly do just that.
“In an oft-cited incident, about 5,000 red-winged blackbirds died on New Year’s Eve 2010 when professional-grade fireworks were illegally set off in Arkansas. The birds, startled from their roosts and disoriented in the darkness, collided with buildings, cars, and trees.” –Audubon
Furthermore, animals fleeing in fear can become disoriented and not able to find their way back to their territory, perhaps leaving behind defenseless young in their hasty, panicked retreat. Wildlife rehabilitators often report an increase in orphaned birds, squirrels and other small animals brought into their centers following the fourth celebrations.
“And of course, what goes up has to come down. Fireworks that fall to the ground contain residues of unburnt propellants and colourants, while particle pollution in the air eventually deposits on the ground or gets washed out by rain. Some of this finds its way into lakes and rivers , where percolate has been linked to thyroid problems, causing limits to be set for drinking water in some US states.” –The Conversation
Pollution caused by fireworks can also present an issue, wildlife can become entangled in the debris, much of which is left behind long after the celebration has subsided. They also may ingest remnants from fireworks, often resulting in death. Pollution to the environment is also an issue, releasing massive amounts of chemical and particle-laden smoke and plastics debris which contaminate ecosystems.
To achieve the bright colors that burst into the night sky, a great deal of toxic heavy metals are employed, just as they once were over bunsen burners when Victorian era scientists identified chemicals based upon their color when ignited. Blue tones are emitted from copper, red is produced by strontium or lithium, and bright green or white are elicited from barium compounds. The chemicals enter the air and eventually drift back to earth, permeating the soil and finding their way into lakes and rivers.
While I don’t want to put a damper on your holiday weekend, I do think it’s important that we’re aware of what this annual event means for more than just the human species. And with that, I ask you to not give up this tradition, should you hold it so dear, but rather approach it with awareness, share what you’ve learned with others and consider taking actions to reduce the negative impact this boisterous annual event imparts upon our fellow beings with whom we share this earth.
Tips for a successful holiday weekend:
-The most eco-friendly alternative to fireworks is to forgo explosions altogether — go to a parade, go fishing, grill out, camp out or help out.
-Steer clear of areas with a heavy wildlife population: If at all possible, try to shoot off fireworks in areas with as few wild animals as possible.
-Choose fireworks with minimal waste: If you can’t clean up after it, maybe you shouldn’t shoot it off. Clean up all firework residue promptly and thoroughly, including trash, spent casings, bits of paper, used matches and ash.
-Laser shows: Similarly dazzling, laser shows are far less disruptive to the environment.
-Dazzlers and sparklers: Opt for lesser impactful options like dazzlers and sparklers. It’ll result in slightly less noise to startle wild animals.
-Drive slowly: Animals are going to be running scared. Be prepared to brake suddenly and avoid collisions.
*Please also consider our veterans as well on this holiday weekend, PTSD is especially severe around this time of year, triggered by our celebratory explosions.
Tags: anxiety, birds, celebration, contamination, debris, fire crackers, fireworks, fourth of july, heavy metals, holiday weekend, human disturbance, pollution, stress, toxins, usa, wildlife, wildlife conservation, wildlife rehab