Central Idaho Designated First Dark Sky Reserve in America 

Environmental advocates scored big in the fight against light pollution

Dark Sky Reserves help to preserve places where the milky way is visible to the naked eye.

Stefano Garau

Dark Sky Reserves help to preserve places where the milky way is visible to the naked eye.

When the Idaho Environmental Forum met Dec. 12 at the Hoff Building to discuss light pollution, its impacts and the moves that had been made in Idaho to fight it (find our coverage here), there was no way for the speakers to know that the Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve they were arguing for would soon become reality.

At that meeting, Boulder, Colorado-based astronomer/astrophysicist Matt Benjamin and Stanley Mayor Elect Steve Botti urged the assembled crowd to support a Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve, defined by the International Dark-Sky Association as "a public or private land possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural, heritage and/or public enjoyment." Six days later, on Dec. 18, the IDA officially designated the  906,000-acre area, which encompasses the cities of Sun Valley, Stanley and Ketchum (already designated a Dark Sky Community), as well as areas of Blaine, Custer, Boise and Elmore counties, and the entire Sawtooth National Recreation Area.

Each reserve is made up of a naturally dark "core area" surrounded by a populated "peripheral area" of communities dedicated to keeping natural light away from their pristine night skies with city ordinances and education. When the IDA designated the Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve, it became the first reserve of its kind in the United States, and the third largest Dark Sky Reserve in the world, joining 11 others internationally. Following the designation of the reserve, IDA Executive Director J. Scott Feierabend said in a press release the efforts made by Idaho communities and the fact that such dark skies still existed in the United States were "remarkable." As icing on the cake, the IDA awarded the new Idaho reserve "Gold Tier" status, an honor bestowed only on designated places with the very darkest skies. 

“This is the culmination of a lot of work, important policy decisions and commitment by so many to manage our light pollution,” Ketchum Mayor Nina Jonas said in the same press release. “We’re pleased what this says about the commitment our communities have shown to protecting our environment and spectacular window to the universe.”

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