Idaho could be­come first area to get starry des­ig­na­tion

The Columbus Dispatch - - Nation&world - 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, Ari­zona-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 United States 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 to be in the path of the to­tal so­lar eclipse.

Ketchum of­fi­cials have ap­plied to be­come an In­ter­na­tional Dark Sky Com­mu­nity, which would mean join­ing Flagstaff, Ari­zona, Drip­ping Springs, Texas, and Bev­erly Shores, In­di­ana.

The Idaho city ap­proved a dark sky or­di­nance that re­quires 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, which is about 12 miles to the south.

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

There’s 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 SkyAs­so­ci­a­tion 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.

[NILS RIBI PHO­TOG­RA­PHY VIA THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS]

The Milky Way can be seen in the night sky at the foot of the Boul­der Moun­tains in the Saw­tooth Na­tional Recre­ation Area of Idaho. The area could be des­ig­nated the na­tion’s first In­ter­na­tional Dark Sky Re­serve if of­fi­cials and res­i­dents there get their way.

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