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Light pollution threatens national parks

Light pollution, which is most often caused by excessive or misdirected outdoor lighting, hinders the ability to observe celestial features   

March 29, 1999
Web posted at: 4:15 PM EST

The splendor of camping out and star gazing is a threatened pastime, according a survey of light pollution impacts on the U.S. National Park System conducted by the National Parks and Conservation Association.

"Protecting dark night skies in our National Parks is as vital as protecting clean air, water, wildlife and the sounds of nature," said Thomas Kiernan, president of the conservation organization.

"Star gazing is a connection to humanity's earliest curiosity about our place in the universe. It is practically impossible to see the stars from most cities, but now, clear night vistas in our national parks are an important resource that is literally fading from sight."

According to the survey:

  • Nearly two-thirds -- 64 percent -- of parks responding to the survey that permit overnight visitation consider light pollution a resource problem.
  • Increasing development and growing populations in communities near the national parks are major sources of light pollution.
  • Light pollution problems are currently worse in the Northeast, Southeast and Midwest U.S. due to the presence of more urban development and population. However, protecting dark night skies is relatively more important to national parks in the Pacific and Rocky Mountain/Intermountain regions.
"Fortunately, reducing light pollution is easy. Plus, it's good for national parks and good for America generally." said Dave Simon, the principal investigator for the survey.

Key steps to safeguard national parks from the negative effects of light pollution, include:

  • Expanded efforts by the National Park Service, using additional funds provided by Congress, to incorporate state-of-the-art technology into all new facilities, and retrofit existing Park Service and concessionaire facilities with light shields, high efficiency fixtures and low-sodium lights.
  • Enactment of strong outdoor lighting ordinances in communities near national parks to reduce light pollution.
  • Enforcement of the Clean Air Act to prevent and reduce pollution, which can also degrade night sky viewing.
Light pollution, which is most often caused by excessive or misdirected outdoor lighting, hinders the ability to observe celestial features.

Under ideal conditions, one might view a night sky with more than 15,000 visible stars plus the Milky Way. Only about 10 percent of the U.S. population experiences these conditions regularly.

Seeing the night sky in its natural splendor is impossible in cities that fail to minimize light pollution and can be a problem in national parks exposed to glare from nearby communities and development.

Light pollution sources can affect national parks more than 100 miles away. Light pollution may also affect animals in national parks, by leading newly hatched sea-turtles astray toward sources of artificial light (and away from the ocean) and by confusing migratory birds.

Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved

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