Nighttime light pollution touches nearly 80 percent of the globe, according to researchers. But thanks to a group of concerned astronomers, the evening sky in central Idaho will stay starry for years to come. As the Associated Press reports, a roughly 1400-square-mile section of the Gem State will be protected as America’s very first “dark sky reserve,” with locals committed to combating artificial light use.
The Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve—now the third largest in the world, and the twelfth of its kind across the world—will include the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, Sun Valley, and Blaine, Custer and Elmore counties, according to the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), the group responsible for naming the protected area.
The IDA is an astronomer-founded nonprofit “that works to help stop light pollution and protect the night skies for present and future generations,” according to their website. In addition to advocacy and education work, the nonprofit works with everyone from legislators to lighting manufacturers to reduce urban light and protect swaths of sky.
To be named a Dark Sky Reserve by the IDA, an area must possess “an exceptional or distinguished quality of night sky, view of the stars, and nocturnal environment.” Committed local officials, landowners, and residents collaborate to regulate light levels and keep the night sky clear.
The night skies of rural Idaho are famously pristine, offering clear views of the Milky Way. In 1999, long before the region was officially named a Dark Sky Reserve, residents of the town of Ketchum, near Sun Valley, passed an ordinance to keep them that way, NPR reports. These kinds of rules don't simply benefit Idaho residents—they're for everyone who wants to enjoy one of the world's dwindling natural wonders, officials now say.
In a news release, Steve Botti, mayor of the Custer County town of Stanley, Idaho, said, "The Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve was created not just for locals, but for all Idahoans and visitors from across the world who can come here and experience the primeval wonder of the starry night sky."
[h/t Associated Press]