Springdale approves lighting ordinance changes in push for Dark Sky Community designation

Zion National Park, date and location not specified | Photo courtesy of the National Park Service, St. George News

SPRINGDALE  — Protecting the night skies in Springdale took a step forward with the Town Council passing changes to their outdoor lighting ordinance Wednesday.

The proposed changes will make the town’s lighting ordinance and policy fully compliant with the International Dark Sky Association Dark Sky Community standards. Springdale had started the process in 2009 with its first lighting ordinance. Its intent was preserving the dark night sky, limiting light trespass and preventing glare.

Zion Park Night Sky above Lady Mountain, Zion National Park, Utah, date not specified | Photo by Cadence Chinle Cook, courtesy of the National Park Service, St. George News

“Protecting the night skies means protecting natural and cultural resources and habitats as well as the nighttime experience,” Robyn Hendere, National Park Service Dark Sky Coordinator, said. “This is important because 62% of all species are most active at nighttime.”

Artificial light at night is a serious pollutant and impacts the natural world, Hendere said. Even wildlife that sleeps at night has their life cycles disrupted by light at nighttime.

“The lights on my street that shine into my window at night can be mitigated by drawing the shades. Our wildlife does not have this luxury,” she said. “Artificial light affects nocturnal sensory and activity patterns for all species.”

During the discussion, Mayor Stanley J. Smith voted in favor of updating the ordinance but expressed concerns about safety for crosswalks and traffic.

“We do it in reasonable ways to ensure safety is there. I want what is best for Springdale,” he said, adding that he remembered how beautiful the night sky was as a child and wanted to preserve it for future generations.

Twilight with stars at Zion National Park, Utah, courtesy of the National Park Service, St. George News

Councilwoman Suzanne Elger said she was in favor of the measure as a quality-of-life issue.

“Everything has evolved … The light bulbs are smarter, costs are less expensive in the long run,” she explained. “The changes will get everyone working together to be on the same page. There is time for people to get into compliance.”

There are many low-cost ways to get the city into compliance, including shields and filters for outside lights, Hendere said. There are also adaptive lights that dim on a schedule.

The town’s push for Dark Sky designation comes after neighboring Zion National Park was recently awarded the distinction.

Some of the benefits for getting the Dark Sky Community Designation, according to the International Dark Sky Association, include the following:

  • It gives more reasons for people who visit to lengthen their average stay in Springdale.
  • Extended stays are more economically beneficial to the town and result in fewer impacts to the community than day trips. Dark night skies are a resource that is increasingly important in attracting and retaining visitors.
  • Dark Sky certification allows an opportunity to educate visitors about dark night skies. A study in Bryce Canyon National Park concluded that it “appears well-positioned to take advantage of the dark sky attributes of the Park and to educate visitors about the importance of maintaining and/or increasing the darkness of night skies.”
  • It brings economic benefits to communities. A study of the economic impact of the Dark Sky designation for Galloway Forest Park in Scotland found that for every £1 spent on installing dark sky friendly lighting in the area, there was a return on investment of £1.93, due to an increase in tourism.
  • Night skies get darker. Night sky certification requires communities to be proactive and persistent in protecting the night sky. When the policies, promotion and education happen, it results in better night sky quality.
  • Certification may lead to a heightened sense of awareness and responsibility to protect the night skies in the community. This could encourage property owners to be even more proactive in protecting the night sky.

Proponents say the Dark Sky designation sends a message to neighboring communities that dark night skies are important and may help build momentum for night sky awareness on a regional scale.

Artificial light and human health

Just like animals, artificial light can disrupt a human’s circadian rhythm and causes many sleep disorders, according to studies. Research suggests that artificial nighttime light is a risk factor for cancer development. The research focuses on the known reduction of melatonin production when humans are exposed to artificial light at night. Studies have also shown that melatonin can inhibit the growth of some human tumor cells.

One study published in the December 2005 issue of Cancer Research implicated melatonin deficiency for increased breast cancer risk in female night shift workers. The study involved female volunteers whose blood was collected during daylight hours and nighttime after two hours of complete darkness and after exposure to 90 minutes of artificial light. The blood was then injected into human breast tumors that were transplanted into rats. 

The tumors infused with melatonin-deficient blood collected after exposure to light during the night grew at the same speed as those infused with daytime blood. The blood collected after exposure to darkness slowed tumor growth.

In a 2007 Israeli study, satellite photos were taken to look at 147 communities at night. This study found a statistically significant positive correlation between artificial outdoor light and breast cancer rates.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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