Idaho Environmental Forum Discusses Dark Sky Reserve, Light Pollution 

Speakers at the IEF monthly meeting advocate for a Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve

click to enlarge Matt Benjamin, an astronomer and astrophysicist, spoke to a crowd about the dangers of light pollution.

Lex Nelson

Matt Benjamin, an astronomer and astrophysicist, spoke to a crowd about the dangers of light pollution.

Earlier this week in the elegant Crystal Ballroom of the Hoff Building in downtown Boise, the topic of discussion at the monthly Idaho Environmental Forum was light pollution in the United States, and the steps underway in Idaho to combat it. The Dec. 12 meeting was dubbed "Bringing the Dark to Light: Dark Sky Designations in Idaho," and the two speakers—Boulder, Colorado-based astronomer/astrophysicist Matt Benjamin and Stanley, Idaho, Mayor Elect Steve Botti—urged the assembled crowd to support the formation of the Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve, a 906,000-acre area in which keeping artificial light away from Idaho skies would be a top priority.

Benjamin laid out a scientific argument against light pollution, saying it disrupts animal navigation, communication and reproduction. It can also alter existing ecosystem interactions, such as mating rituals of North Eastern fireflies, which can be confused by artificial lights; and sea turtles in Florida that, in looking for the reflection of the moon off the ocean during hatching, can be enticed by streetlights onto roadways.

Humans can be affected too: Blue light, like that emitted by phone and computer screens, can disrupt sleep patterns by altering melatonin production.

click image Only 20 percent of Americans can see the milky way with the naked eye from where they live. - FREE-PHOTOS/9121 IMAGES, CC0
  • Free-Photos/9121 Images, CC0
  • Only 20 percent of Americans can see the milky way with the naked eye from where they live.
"It's not just astronomers saying, 'Clear our skies, we want to use our telescopes'," Benjamin said.

There are effects on a cosmic level, as well. Benjamin explained that a third of the world's population and 80 percent of people in the United States can't see the Milky Way with the naked eye.

"We are star stuff," Benjamin told the crowd. "When we see the stars in the heavens, we see our physical ancestry."

When Botti spoke, he focused more on the economic implications of switching lights off or keeping them shielded—less energy use means less cost, and beautiful skies attract tourism—and the next steps to creating a Dark Sky Reserve under the purview of the International Dark-Sky Association, the global nonprofit that campaigns for dark skies.

"We're losing the dark in the United States and at alarming rate," Botti said. "Dark Sky Reserves are a way to address those threats."

Ketchum was designated the first Dark Sky Community in Idaho on Oct. 31. The city received the designation by adopting ordinances that adhere to the three IDA cornerstones: shielding outdoor lights, shielding unnecessary lights and converting necessary lighting to a warmer light color. In order to form a Dark Sky Reserve, the cities of Sun Valley, Smiley Creek and Stanley need to take the same steps, and a host of private landowners in Blaine and Custer counties and public lands managers in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area would need to commit as well. If all of the entities within the proposed Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve commit to the project, it will be the first designated Dark Sky Reserve in the United States, and the third largest in the world.

In closing, Benjamin noted that in Idaho, "Our world class darkness deserves the same protections as our world class wilderness."
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