Natural darkness — which is essential for plants, wildlife and humans — is disappearing. In 2001, an Italian astronomer estimated that two-thirds of U.S. residents can no longer see the Milky Way with the naked eye. In response, some Western cities and national parks have modified their light usage. In April 2007, Utah’s Natural Bridges National Monument became the first “International Dark Sky Park” certified by the nonprofit International Dark-Sky Association (“Quest for Darkness,” HCN, 12/10/07).
Now, the West boasts the nation’s first International Dark Sky Reserve, certified in December after decades of effort by volunteers and officials. The 1,400-square-mile swath of central Idaho, in the Sawtooth National Forest, is so free from light pollution that “interstellar dust clouds can be seen in the Milky Way,” reports E&E News. Idaho gained two other “starry night” recognitions last year: The city of Ketchum became the world’s 16th International Dark Sky Community, and Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve became an International Dark Sky Park.