Sisters youth want to save dark skies

 

Last updated 3/2/2022 at Noon

Kris Kristovich

Sisters’ night skies offer spectacular experiences —if we keep them dark.

What creates a greater sense of awe and wonder than standing outside and gazing up into the crystal-clear dark night sky over Sisters? Stars twinkling, constellations readily visible, satellites passing overhead. Sisters is on the precipice of losing that amazing night sky to growing light pollution.

In a presentation to the City Council on February 23, members of Sisters High School Astronomy Club presented data highlighting the increase in light pollution of Sisters’ dark skies, and the importance of protecting those skies. Students making the presentation included sophomores Molly Greaney and Kaleb Woods, and junior Lizzie McCrystal, with work on the presentation also done by Paola Mendoza.

Other Astronomy Club students include: Zoey Lorusso, Dominic Martinez, Soyla Martinez, Emma Sahlberg, Annalycia Erdekian, Erik Ryan, Daisy Montecinos, Adriana Luna, and Zach Theis. Rima Givot is their faculty advisor.

One photograph taken last month showed the existence of a light or sky dome over Sisters, something that up to this point in time the area has never had. As the population increases and more building takes place, the selection of appropriate outside lighting fixtures and bulbs takes on added significance.

One of the special attractions Sisters offers to residents and tourists alike is the ability to experience viewing of the dark night sky with all the stars and constellations that humans have used for navigation for centuries.

Local artist and 31-year resident of Sisters, Paul Bennett, presented an advertising slogan to the Council. He pointed out that Sisters is marketed as “the town of tiny lights.” He expanded that to “the town of tiny lights and dark skies.” A number of Bennett’s paintings feature the local starlit sky.

Responsible lighting not only protects the dark skies, but it provides energy savings. Shielding lights and reducing glare helps improve safety. More light doesn’t always result in a safer environment. What matters more is the way an area is lit. Lowering and shielding lights illuminates the area intended to be lit while preventing glare. Warmer-colored lights have a lower impact on night vision.

The students illustrated how Sisters’ night skies are currently very similar to what the Portland area had in the 1950s. They told Council, “We are at a critical time, with the increase of population growth in Central Oregon, to have a chance to influence our ability to see stars into the future. Costs and efforts we pay now will be far outweighed by benefits in the future.”

The students are asking Council to update and fully implement the City’s dark-sky ordinance, which was written in 2010 with five years given for implementation. Up to this year, little has been done and Council is intent on changing that. The students would like to see public education to raise awareness regarding appropriate lighting as well as enforcement of the code.

Kris Kristovich

The Milky Way over Sisters. Dark night skies are one of the attractions of Sisters Country — but they are endangered by increase lighting demands.

The southeastern part of Oregon is one of the largest pristine dark-sky areas in the United States. Sisters and all of Central Oregon influences that area with our lighting. The students urge the use of responsible lighting practices in Sisters to protect our dark skies and to buffer the area to the southeast.

Light pollution is caused by unshielded lights, blue/white lights, excessive lighting, and inappropriate lighting. All these factors give rise to light trespass, glare, and sky glow.

Responsible outdoor lighting should:

•?Be targeted and shielded to prevent glare and light trespass on others’ property.

•?Be as dim as possible and as warm as possible.

•?Provide a safe and secure environment.

•?Be controlled with motion sensors, timers, or turned off when not needed.

•?Enhance visibility, not impede it.

With a new compliance officer joining the City staff in March, there will be personnel available to offer education and awareness regarding dark skies and, if needed, enforce compliance with the

ordinance.

 

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