During the past three years, starry nights over Bend have been disappearing at a rate of 7% per year.
That’s according to data collected by scientist Bill Kowalik, board chair of the Oregon chapter of the International Dark-Sky Association.
Kowalik’s wife, Cathie Flanigan, is also a board member at the association. The couple is passionate about preserving Oregon’s magnificent dark skies because it has a direct correlation to the health and well-being of all life.
It’s as easy as turning off the outdoor lights around your home. But Kowalik and Flanigan are careful to make a few important distinctions.
First, a dark sky is not the same as a “dark earth.” The couple recognizes the need for outdoor lighting for practicality and safety purposes. This is where responsible outdoor lighting comes in.
According to Kowalik, people can help by using outdoor lights that appear yellow to human eyes but do not have noticeable blue-violet light. The blue light emulates the sun, throwing birds and insects off course and often causing them to spin in a never-ending loop.
“Each of us — people, animals, wildlife — have a chemical circadian rhythm built into our makeup that is based on millions of years of evolution where the only light at night was the stars and the moon,” Kowalik said.
The invention of artificial light has not only resulted in sleep issues for humans, but also disrupted the behavior of wildlife. Blue light is especially problematic for nocturnal animals, which use the moon and the stars to navigate, Flanigan said.
If you’re wondering what you can do to help, Kowalik and Flanigan have a few recommendations. Take a quick inventory of the lights around your home. Are the lights warm? Are the lights targeted?
In many cases, it makes more sense for outdoor lighting to be shining toward the ground, rather than toward the sky. In cases where it doesn’t make sense to turn off the lights completely, it may make sense to use a dimmer or motion sensor.
Swapping out lights or using them differently is a relatively small change with the power to reap enormous benefits.
Responsible outdoor lighting has the power to conserve energy, safeguard human health and protect wildlife.
Friday and Saturday, Kowalik and Flanigan will represent the Oregon chapter of the International Dark-Sky Association at the global conference, Under One Sky. The 24-hour virtual event is free to attend and features experts and storytellers from around the world discussing the dark sky movement.
It’s likely to leave those who attend feeling inspired, and according to Kowalik, is demonstrative of the international nature of the movement.