US is now home to largest 'Dark Sky Sanctuary' in world

Over 99% of Americans live in areas that have light pollution. Nearly 80% of Americans can't see the Milky Way, along with a third of the world.

LAKE COUNTY, Ore. – It's official. The world's largest certified International Dark Sky Sanctuary is in eastern Oregon, DarkSky International announced last week.

The 2.5 million acres in Lake County, Oregon, is just the first phase of a project that hopes to encompass 11.4 million acres of contiguous, protected night sky. Lake County, about the size of half of New Jersey, is often called the Oregon Outback. The area will be called the Oregon Outback International Dark Sky Sanctuary.

"As the population of Oregon and the trend of light pollution continue to rise, the unparalleled scale and quality of the Outback’s dark skies will long serve as a starry refuge to people and wildlife alike," said DarkSky Delegate Dawn Nilson, the environmental consultant who managed and authored the application, in a statement.


"Adherence to the Lighting Management Plan (LMP) will allow this large expanse of land to serve as a demonstration site of sustainable lighting principles not only within southeastern Oregon but possibly the Pacific Northwest Region," she added.

Where is the Oregon Outback International Dark Sky Sanctuary?

The land is in a sparsely populated and remote area of southeastern Oregon. Most of the high desert, hot springs, volcanic monuments and sage scrubland is public land. The Bureau of Land Management controls 1.7 million acres. The Hart Mountain Antelope Preserve and part of the Fremont-Winema National Forest are included. 

Managers of the wildlife-rich area said it was not hard to get behind the LPM, which forced many to remove outdoor lights and/or change bulbs and shades.

"ODFW (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife) is pleased to be part of the efforts to preserve the dark skies of Lake County. The extensive wetlands of Lake County are one of the most important habitats of the Pacific Flyway," Phil Milburn, a district manager for ODFW, said in a statement about the migratory bird corridor. "Recent efforts by partners in Lake County to preserve dark skies is a welcomed action to protect wildlife from the well-documented negative impacts of light pollution."


The district manager for the BLM agreed that it was an easy choice to "maintain this scarce resource" in an area where the lighting hasn't changed in generations.

The state owns about 80,000 acres if rangeland and the Oregon Outback Scenic Byway cuts through it. The Organizers had to get buy-ins from the ranches, cattle land and private rangeland owners as well.

Light pollution is a growing issue

The Light Pollution Science and Technology Institute states that more than 80% of the world, including 99% of the population in the U.S., live under night skies that are polluted by light. Nights in half of the land in the country are polluted. Nearly 80% of Americans can't see the Milky Way, along with a third of the world.


The state and travel companies hope the designation will mean more tourism.

"This four-year collaboration brings together so many of the elements we try to achieve in regenerative tourism," said Bob Hackett, Executive Director of Travel Southern Oregon and an organizer, in a statement. "It not only elevates the destination experience for visitors to Lake County and opens up opportunities for local businesses, but it also helps agencies and residents steward their lands in ways that celebrate a legacy of starry night skies for generations to come."

DarkSky International said that the Oregon Outback International Dark Sky Sanctuary is already the first landscape-scale Dark Sky Place. There are only 19 Dark Sky Sanctuaries around the world.

The International Dark Sky Places Program was founded in 2001 and certifies areas that voluntarily preserve and protect dark sites through lighting policies, environmentally responsible outdoor lighting and public education. Over 200 places are certified worldwide.