Night Sky

This toolbox provides information pertaining to the management of the night sky in wilderness. It includes law and agency policies, management guidelines and tools, examples of plans, and other resources you may find useful. Toolboxes are comprehensively reviewed and updated approximately every three years, with intermittent small updates and additions in the interim. To suggest new materials for inclusion, email Lisa Ronald at lisa@wilderness.net. Date of last update: 11/17/2018.

Introduction

"In the American West throughout the latter part of the 19th century, the conquest of the frontier by American industrial culture led to a profound sense of loss among conservation-minded individuals. They mourned the passing of a way of life and of an unspoiled grand landscape that fostered individual freedoms, simple rewards for hard work, and an intimacy with the land that was required for mere survival. The last 20 or 30 years have seen a similar or analogous rapid disappearance of a resource that was once taken for granted: the unfettered view of the universe on a dark, clear, moonless night. Today, we are on the verge of losing the pristine night sky entirely in the 48 contiguous states. However, unlike losing a species to extinction, topsoil to erosion, or yet-to-be-explored virgin lands to development, the night sky is 100% recoverable."-Dan Duriscoe.

The preservation of the night sky and the natural rhythms that accompany these resources in the environment is critical to the preservation of wilderness character.

Law and Policy

The Wilderness Act

The Wilderness Act contains both implied and stated terminology that supports protecting the night sky in wilderness areas:

  • Outstanding opportunity for solitude (Sec. 2(c))
  • Primeval character (Sec. 2(c))
  • Managed so as to preserve its natural conditions (Sec. 2(c))
  • Affected primarily by the forces of nature (Sec. 2 (c))
  • Primitive and unconfined recreation (Sec. 2(c))
  • No use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorized boats (Sec. 4(c))
  • No landing aircraft (Sec. 4(c))

All of these references suggest possibilities for natural lightscapes, and therefore an environment that is not impacted by light pollution to the greatest extent possible.

The Wilderness Act also allows for activities which may generate light that is not natural. By law, mining, commercial grazing, water developments, motorboats or aircraft, and private and state land inholdings, may be allowed and activities associated with these uses may generate light visible inside wilderness. Managers are encouraged to minimize this unnatural light when and where possible.

Section 4(f) provision of the Department of Transportation Act of 1966 (codified at 49 U.S.C. 303)

Requires that feasible alternatives or all possible planning to minimize harm be used in connection with DOT proposed projects (including FAA overflights and commercial air tour authority);

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) (codified at 42 U.S.C. 4371 et. seq.)

Requires that all federal agencies analyze the potential environmental impacts from proposed projects and programs before making decisions.

Agency Policy

BLM

  • Wilderness Manual 6340 1.6.A.2.c.ii
    The BLM does not have language in their policy specific to night skies or natural lightscapes. However this resource is a part of the whole of natural resources in wilderness and fall under the general guidance for natural resources.

FWS

610 FW 2.26 How does the Service protect natural night skies and natural soundscapes in wilderness?
Natural night skies and natural soundscapes are aspects of wilderness character that are preserved by:
  • Evaluating potential light and noise effects of refuge management activities and commercial services in an MRA. (See section 2.12 and 610 FW 1.18.)
  • Cooperating with neighbors and local government agencies to minimize the intrusion of artificial light and unnatural sounds in wilderness areas.
  • Monitoring activities causing excessive or unnecessary artificial light or unnatural sounds in and adjacent to wilderness areas, including low-level aircraft overflights.

Taking action to prevent or minimize artificial light and unnatural sounds that adversely affect wilderness resources or values or visitors’ enjoyment of them.

 

FS

FSM Manual Ch. 2320
Forest Service policy does not specifically address night sky in wilderness. However, this value is a part of the wilderness resource and is included in the general policy guidance: "Manage wilderness to ensure that human influence does not impede the free play of natural forces or interfere with natural successions in the ecosystems." It goes on to state that wilderness should be, "managed as one resource rather than a series of separate resources."

FSM 2310
The FS also provides policy for planning and management of activities on adjacent lands, "Because wilderness does not exist in a vacuum, consider activities on both sides of wilderness boundaries during planning and articulate management goals and the blending of diverse resources in forest plans. Do not maintain buffer strips of undeveloped wildland to provide an informal extension of wilderness. Do not maintain internal buffer zones that degrade wilderness values. Use the Recreation Opportunity Spectrum as a tool to plan adjacent land management."

 

NPS

National Park Service Management Policies (2006), section 4.10
The Service will preserve, to the greatest extent possible, the natural lightscapes of parks, which are natural resources and values that exist in the absence of human-caused light.
  • restrict the use of artificial lighting in parks to those areas where security, basic human safety, and specific cultural resource requirements must be met;
  • use minimal-impact lighting techniques;
  • shield the use of artificial lighting where necessary to prevent the disruption of the night sky, natural cave processes, physiological processes of living organisms, and similar natural processes.

 

Management Guidelines and Strategies

Multi-agency

Guidelines

Inventory and Monitoring

Research, Publications, and Other Resources

Research

Articles

Education

Miscellaneous Resources