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Principle 9 - Use Land Wisely

Apply proactive techniques to prevent overdevelopment and degradation. Locate manufactured attractions in areas with minimal ecological, scenic, historic or cultural assets.

There are several organizations throughout the Crown of the Continent region that are working hard to combat development pressures such as resort and vacation-home sprawl. However, one of the most unique examples of preventing undesired overdevelopment and degradation has more to do with the sky than the land – the Waterton-Glacier Dark Skies Initiative.

Light pollution is prevalent all across the country. Currently two thirds of Americans cannot see the Milky Way from their backyard. If current light pollution trends continue, there will be almost no dark skies left in the contiguous United States by 2025. In fact, recent statistics indicate roughly half the children born this year will never see a natural night sky with a view of the Milky Way overhead, making this sight now as rare as the view of the area’s grizzly bears and glaciers.

There are also significant impacts to the natural environment as a result of light pollution. Dark skies are critical to the wildlife that depend on darkness to hunt, hide or reproduce. Further, for nocturnal animals it means habitat disruption. Artificial light can also alter the natural cycles of many plants and negatively impact animals that have more sensitive vision than humans do.

As a result, Waterton Lakes National Park and Glacier National Park are working on becoming the world’s first trans-boundary dark sky park. The nomination process includes significant work – measuring darkness conditions, surveying every exterior light and developing a mitigation plan for each as needed, and providing educational outreach about the importance of preserving dark skies. Both parks are working with the International Dark Sky Association and the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada to develop a joint application process that will be good across the borders of our two nations. The Big Sky Astronomy Club has been instrumental in their work on the light survey, taking the lead on getting this difficult part of the process completed in a timely and professional manner.

Glacier’s educational program, “Half the Park Happens After Dark,” provides participants with an opportunity to see the night sky in all its glory – and in a location with a minimal number of artificial lights. The National Park Service has collaborated with several partners – the Glacier National Park Conservancy, the International Dark Sky Association, the NPS Night Sky Program, and the Big Sky Astronomy Club – to provide park-wide night time viewing as well as daytime viewing of the sun. The park hosts several dedicated volunteer astronomers to provide these viewing opportunities at St. Mary, Apgar, and Logan Pass. The programs include laser-guided constellation tours as well as telescope viewing of deep space objects like galaxies, star clusters, and nebulae. Solar-viewing has been equally popular with many visitors seeing our nearest star for the first time through special hydrogen-alpha filtered telescopes.

Here’s how you can help:

  1. Enjoy the night. It’s much easier to protect something you cherish.
  2. Use light only when you need it. Using motion sensors and timers to turn lights on and off costs less money, improves security, and reduces light pollution.
  3. Shield your lights. Shielded fixtures allow no light to shine above the horizon. Existing lights can also be adjusted to point downward or retrofitted with simple metal shrouds.
  4. Use less light. With an efficient, shielded light fixture, even a 25 or 40 watt incandescent bulb, or a 9 watt compact fluorescent, is enough to light a porch or driveway.
  5. Talk to your neighbors. Share your appreciation of the night and ways to protect it with your family, friends, neighbors, and community leaders.

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