Dark sky re­serve may soon be re­al­ity

Idaho may join few U.S. des­ti­na­tions as places to ex­clu­sively view stars

Santa Fe New Mexican - - REGION - By Keith Ri­dler

BOISE, Idaho — Tourists head­ing to central Idaho will be in the dark if lo­cal of­fi­cials get their way.

The first In­ter­na­tional Dark Sky Re­serve in the United States would fill a chunk of the state’s sparsely pop­u­lated re­gion that con­tains night skies so pris­tine that in­ter­stel­lar dust clouds are vis­i­ble in the Milky Way.

“We know the night sky has in­spired people for many thou­sands of years,” said John Bar­en­tine, pro­gram man­ager at the Tucson, Ariz.-based In­ter­na­tional Dark-Sky As­so­ci­a­tion. “When they are in a space where they can see it, it’s of­ten a very pro­found ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Sup­port­ers say ex­cess ar­ti­fi­cial light causes sleep­ing prob­lems for people and dis­rupts noc­tur­nal wildlife and that a dark sky can solve those prob­lems, boost home val­ues and draw tourists. Op­po­si­tion to dark sky mea­sures else­where in the U.S. have come from the out­door ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­try and those against ad­di­tional gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tions.

Re­searchers say 80 per­cent of North Amer­i­cans live in ar­eas where light pol­lu­tion blots out the night sky. Central Idaho con­tains one of the few places in the con­tigu­ous United States large enough and dark enough to at­tain re­serve sta­tus, Bar­en­tine said. Only 11 such re­serves ex­ist in the world.

Lead­ers in the cities of Ketchum and Sun Val­ley, the tiny moun­tain town of Stan­ley, other lo­cal and federal of­fi­cials, and a con­ser­va­tion group have been work­ing for sev­eral years to ap­ply this fall to des­ig­nate 1,400 square miles as a re­serve. A fi­nal de­ci­sion by the as­so­ci­a­tion would come about 10 weeks after the ap­pli­ca­tion is submitted.

The as­so­ci­a­tion also des­ig­nates In­ter­na­tional Dark Sky Parks, with nearly 40 in the U.S. Craters of the Moon Na­tional Mon­u­ment and Pre­serve in central Idaho, known as a prime des­ti­na­tion among avid stargaz­ers, be­came one ear­lier this year.

“There is some astro tourism,” said Ketchum Mayor Nina Jonas, a point driven home last month when thou­sands de­scended on the town in the path of the to­tal so­lar eclipse.

Ketchum of­fi­cials have ap­plied to be­come an In­ter­na­tional Dark Sky Com­mu­nity and join Flagstaff, Ariz., Drip­ping Springs, Texas, and Bev­erly Shores, Ind.

The Idaho city ap­proved a dark sky or­di­nance re­quir­ing res­i­dents to in­stall shields on ex­te­rior light fix­tures to block light from go­ing up­ward and man­dat­ing hol­i­day light­ing by busi­nesses and res­i­dents be turned off at night.

Be­com­ing a dark sky com­mu­nity could help with the larger re­serve sta­tus and even lift prop­erty val­ues in the al­ready pricey area by keep­ing the night sky vis­i­ble. Nearby Sun Val­ley, a ski re­sort city, also has a dark sky or­di­nance, as does Hai­ley about 12 miles to the south.

“It’s nice to look up and see some­thing greater than our­selves,” Jonas said.

The Idaho Con­ser­va­tion League has joined the ef­fort, not­ing light pol­lu­tion can ad­versely af­fect noc­tur­nal wildlife and people’s sleep rhythms.

“Out of all the types of pol­lu­tion that ICL is en­gaged in, I see this as one we can com­bat in an eas­ier way,” said Dani Maz­zota, whose group is co­or­di­nat­ing ef­forts among federal and lo­cal en­ti­ties.

That in­cludes an in­ten­sive ef­fort by vol­un­teers tak­ing dark­ness read­ings through­out the re­gion. Those read­ings, com­bined with satel­lite mea­sure­ments, will be some of the in­for­ma­tion used by the In­ter­na­tional Dark Sky-As­so­ci­a­tion in its de­ci­sion.

In­ter­na­tional Dark Sky Re­serves have two main com­po­nents, Bar­en­tine said. The first is a core area dark enough to meet the as­so­ci­a­tion’s stan­dards. The sec­ond is a buf­fer area with com­mu­ni­ties that demon­strate sup­port in pro­tect­ing the core by lim­it­ing light pol­lu­tion.

The pro­posed Idaho re­serve is mainly land man­aged by the U.S. For­est Ser­vice and con­tains the wilder­ness of the Saw­tooth Na­tional Recre­ation Area.

“We have a preser­va­tion and pro­tec­tion mis­sion, and pre­serv­ing the dark sky and mit­i­gat­ing light pol­lu­tion is a re­ally good fit for the Saw­tooth Na­tional Recre­ation Area,” said ranger Kirk Flan­ni­gan.

He said a sur­vey of landown­ers, live­stock graz­ing per­mit hold­ers, recre­ation out­fit­ters, lodges and cabin own­ers found al­most uni­ver­sal sup­port for cre­at­ing the re­serve.

The For­est Ser­vice will con­trib­ute by putting up in­for­ma­tional signs about the dark sky re­serve and re­duc­ing light pol­lu­tion from its build­ings, Flan­ni­gan said. The agency would not man­date ac­tions, and any light mit­i­ga­tion by oth­ers in the recre­ation area would be vol­un­tary.

Stan­ley, a tiny moun­tain town within the Saw­tooth recre­ation area, runs mostly on tourism money. Its light pol­lu­tion mea­sures are vol­un­tary but have been ef­fec­tive, not only be­cause they could mean more tourism, but be­cause lo­cals them­selves like to see the night sky, said Steve Botti, city coun­cil pres­i­dent.

“I go out most ev­ery night and look at it be­cause it’s so dra­matic,” he said.

NILS RIBI PHOTOGRAPHY VIA AP

The Milky Way in the night sky in Novem­ber at the foot of the Boul­der Moun­tains in the Saw­tooth Na­tional Recre­ation Area, Idaho. The In­ter­na­tional Dark Sky As­so­ci­a­tion says the re­gion is one of the few places re­main­ing in the con­tigu­ous United States large enough and dark enough to be­come the na­tion’s first In­ter­na­tional Dark Sky Re­serve.

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