In addition, the University of Utah has awarded formal recognition to the Consortium for Dark Sky Studies, the first academic center in the world dedicated to discovering, developing and applying knowledge to help protect night skies, according to U. officials. And next year, the university will help sponsor the largest global conference to date, examining the impacts of artificial lights.
Light pollution prompted Torrey resident Mary Bedingfield-Smith to find out what the small town (population 300) could do to curb artificial light. A single streetlight near her home was so bright that it lit up a row of cottonwood trees, spoiling her view of Capitol Reef's star-encrusted sky. She chatted with neighbors on walks and met with town officials with a proposal: Her group would raise money to install new lighting, and the municipality would save more than $900 in lighting costs each year.
Bedingfield-Smith, a retired elementary-school teacher and Utah State University educator, was able to form a consensus by assuring residents that no one would be forced to replace existing lighting. And her group would pay new lighting costs for those who wanted to retrofit but couldn't afford it.
"People are worried about their specific situation, which is difficult to address in a large meeting," said Bedingfield-Smith, now a Torrey planning-commission member. "When we talk individually, we can discuss specific lighting needs and what can be done to get there. Without individuals and associations working together, the last remaining dark areas on the planet could well disappear without anyone noticing."
In late March, crews replaced traditional bulbs, which spew out beams in all directions, in the town's streetlights along Main Street. Workers from Garkane Energy Cooperative installed new lights using spectra that direct light away from the sky.
Torrey residents turned to online crowdfunding to help pay for eight new streetlights. Nearly $13,000 was raised through the website ioby.org ("in our backyards"), and the Torrey arts organization Entrada helped raise an additional $7,000. The donations paid for the town's retrofitted bulbs and new lighting at the Torrey Trading Post and Chuck Wagon store and motel, both on Main Street. Streetlights on 100 North have not yet been replaced, allowing residents to see the different effects on the night-sky view.
The longtime goal is to assist other towns in the sparsely populated Wayne County (population 2,700) to protect its dark skies — from the county seat of Loa along the State Highway 24 corridor leading to Capitol Reef.
Utah has more dark-sky places than any other state or country, but light pollution is eroding this valuable, irreplaceable resource, said John Barentine, program manager for the International Dark-Sky Association. Torrey, for example, has been the single greatest source of light pollution above Capitol Reef. Visitors must hike into the deepest southern reaches of the park to enjoy the most pristine night skies.
"In the American West, small towns emit more amounts of light, relative to their populations, than do large metropolitan areas," he said. "There's also broader support for private-property rights, and a fundamental human fear of darkness. The tendency in rural areas is to light up property in the name of safety and security."
Yet people can be safe and save money by using lights appropriately, advocates say. Simple shields on existing bulbs, for example, direct beams downward, rather than lighting up the heavens. And instead of using expensive all-night floodlights, motion detectors can flash an immediate alert to an intruder.
LED lights are phasing out other types of bulbs, but some of the brightest lamps cast a blue color, creating glare problems. It's suggested that consumers purchase LEDs measured in light output of 3,000 lumens. By comparison, an old standard 100-watt bulb equals about 1,600 lumens. The IDA website lists names of companies that manufacture appropriate lighting. The association also has an IDA Seal of Approval that provides objective, third-party certification for lighting that minimizes glare, reduces light trespass and doesn't pollute the night sky.
The American Medical Association has raised concerns about exposure to blue-rich white LED lighting, which can damage human retinas, create road hazards and disrupt nocturnal animals. The report "Human and Environmental Effects of Light Emitting Diode Community Lighting" recommends "minimizing and controlling blue-rich environmental lighting by using the lowest emission of blue light possible."
Dark skies above Colorado Plateau will have a huge economic impact on Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona, according to a Missouri State University study. Tourists from around the world will spend nearly $2.5 billion visiting national parks in the Colorado Plateau, creating more than 52,250 jobs.
Increased visitation will also affect rural areas by providing a steady source of income for local businesses and employees during the off-peak season, according to the study.
"Many in the world have lost their view of the Milky Way," study authors David Mitchell and Terrel Gallaway write. "For them a dark sky is as exotic a sight as a herd of bison or a glacial lake."