dark skies are disappearing;
electric light is burning out the stars, galaxies, & meteors –
but, happily, it is the simplest of the pollutions to repair
Presently, Cook Forest State Park displays a spectacular dark sky star show on clear, new moon evenings – but this once-pristine darkness is increasingly encroached upon. Business lights, homes, headlights, and spotlights all dilute the natural night, which is not only nice for stargazing, but is essential to the proper function of all creatures, humans included.
Fewer and fewer locations in North America still permit a view of the starry sky without dilution from the pollutive light that pervades urbanized and, increasingly, rural, areas. Only one location in Pennsylvania is designated as an International Dark Sky Place – Cherry Springs State Park, 82 acres at the centre of Susquehannock State Forest in north central PA. Without a concentrated effort to reduce the quantity and quality of nighttime lighting, light pollution will continue to spread and intensify across the globe – including across the dark sky of Cook Forest.
In the south Atlantic the glow from a single fishing fleet—squid fishermen luring their prey with metal halide lamps—can be seen from space, burning brighter, in fact, than Buenos Aires or Rio de Janeiro. – National Geographic Magazine, Our Vanishing Night, Nov. 2008
[M]ore than 80 percent of the planet’s land areas—and 99 percent of the population of the United States and Europe—live under skies so blotted with man-made light that the Milky Way has become virtually invisible. – National Geographic Magazine 80 Percent of Americans Can’t See the Milky Way Anymore, June 2016.
Dark Skies Still Reign over Cook Forest - for now
Cook Forest is among the very few sites in America escaping the pervasive flood of light pollution, and one of the best places in the Northeastern US to enjoy the night sky. The astronomy opportunities are so stellar, the CFC has compiled a short guide to enjoying the night sky in & around Cook Forest State Park:
Unfortunately, this will not continue – unless measures are taken both to limit development, and ensure that fixtures, practices, and policies protective of dark skies are chosen.
Cook Forest and its surrounding woodlands are within the small area overlaying Forest, Clarion, and Jefferson counties in the northwest of the state. We’re the only spot of deep blue remaining except for Cherry Springs State Park – a designated IDA dark sky park – and undeveloped Susquehannock State Forest surrounding it, to our east.
Why We Need Dark Skies
National Geographic provides a quick synopsis of why preserving the night sky matters, for all living creatures:
Not only does light pollution dim a part of our cultural heritage, the study of the stars, but the constant glow is damaging so many facets of the natural world – disrupting the health of people, animals, and even trees. Disrupting the entire ecosystem.
Everyone likely has heard how detrimental artificial lighting can be for marine turtles, and for the reproduction of frogs, and for the migration of birds. It simultaneously decreases the pollinator work of moths, makes them easy targets for bats, and increases disease transmission among the bats feeding on the baffled, exhausted, light-attracted moths. But did you know:
- increased light at night “lowers melatonin production, which results in sleep deprivation, fatigue, headaches, stress, anxiety,” and possibly contributes to cancer;
- artificial lighting creates serious barriers to animal movement, similar in effect to a roadway dividing a wildlife corridor; and
- even in areas without lighting installed, skyglow, the aura of light “scattered back to Earth by aerosols and clouds […] could still threaten the 30% of vertebrates and 60% of invertebrates that are nocturnal and exquisitely sensitive” to light.
We need the night, and nature needs the night. “Between 9.8 million and 1 billion birds die annually die to light pollution,” said Carnegie Mellon University lecturer in Physics, Diane Turnshek, during her TEDx Talk, here:
Preserving the Dark Skies of Cook Forest
Cook Forest State Park and its beautiful starscape are right in the middle of this map from LightPollutionMap.info, and you can see the illumination hotspots creeping toward us from all directions. Internationally, light pollution has increased by 6 to 10% each year, spilling from property to property, chasing darkness and its wildlife deeper into ever-shrinking pools of night. But community cooperation and thoughtful selection of fixtures can maintain the magnificent dark sky of Northwest Pennsylvania. Cook Forest, and the people who live in or love the park, must fight to retain our dark night skies.
Help Keep the Night Dark
Education and thoughtfulness can go a long way toward limiting light pollution – and everyone can help. Basic things to remember: whiter lights, brighter lights, and more lights are worse for wildlife. So, to help limit light pollution, use warmer, lower wattage (or lumen) lights, and use them only when and where they’re necessary.
If you’re visiting:
keep outdoor camp lights to a minimum, and try to use dim-wattage warm-toned lighting (e.g. firelight tones, as opposed to the cool blue light of “white” or daylight LEDs). Red or green filters for flashlights and camp lanterns provide illumination without weakening your night vision or polluting the surrounding area – these can be bought, or made out of light gels & duct tape, or holiday-color saran wrap & a rubber band. Please don’t spotlight wildlife. Let your hosts know if area lighting is brighter than necessary, or on longer than necessary – they’ll save in energy expenses, as well.
If you’re a resident or business owner:
try to use dark sky lighting. Lights should shield bulbs, and direct light downward instead of laterally and into the sky. Whatever your fixtures, limit the hours of use, and especially the wattages, of the bulbs – which ideally should be on the warm or amber end of the spectrum (up to 2700 or 3000 K [kelvin], not “daylight” or bright white).
We need community support to keep the night sky dark over Cook Forest, and we welcome your questions and involvement.
If you have questions, or would like advice on fixtures, let us know! If you’d like to help campaign for IDA designation, or learn how to advocate good-neighbor policies, send us a note.
If you’d like to support dark-sky efforts by the Cook Forest Conservancy, and our other programs to protect and preserve the park, please consider making a contribution, or becoming a member.