Help others protect and reclaim dark skies with the Flagstaff Solution

“Flagstaff has massively limited its light footprint. If Fairbanks can move in this direction, we can have a significant impact. »

Fairbanks, Alaska, a city of about 31,000, relies heavily on dark skies for its winter economy. Tourists come from all over the world to see the Northern Lights, the Aurora Borealis, dancing across the landscape in shades of green. But worries about light pollution in recent years have community leaders staring into the dark starry nights of Flagstaff, wondering what can be done in Fairbanks. The Flagstaff Dark Skies Coalition responds with The Flagstaff Solution.

“We knew Flagstaff had done something unusual, but in recent years we’ve actually measured it. We surprised ourselves at how successful we had been,” said Chris Luginbuhl, president of the Flagstaff Dark Skies Coalition. “We compared skyglow measurements over Flagstaff with a similarly sized city and found that Flagstaff is over 90% dimmer, one-tenth brighter. It’s breathtaking! And that really helped underline for us that we really have something important, that we need to understand what we did that led to this success and find a way to pass it on to others so that the rest of the world too can take advantage of the field-proven techniques we have developed in Flagstaff. »

Coalition volunteers promote the beauty and also the many reasons why dark skies should be protected. The obvious reasons are science and space exploration, but others include human health, ecological concerns, spiritual and cultural ties, aesthetics, and energy conservation. And for communities in the Far North, the dark skies keep their view of the Northern Lights shining.

“It’s one of those things that you really have to see in person to truly appreciate,” said Scott McCrea, president and CEO of Explore Fairbanks. “I have been here for 35 years. You never get tired of seeing it – a band of green light and dramatic movements in the sky. I’m as amazed as the first time I saw it. It’s a sight to behold. It’s a big part of what defines us as a destination.

During the pandemic, Alaska tourism and government officials say the Northern Lights over Fairbanks have become even more appealing to Americans who weren’t able to travel to Iceland or Finland for the experience. aurora borealis. But also, there is a growing awareness that their night skies are not as dark as they remember.

Fairbanks North Star Borough Assemblyman Aaron Lojewski suspects the use of LED lights has made the night sky brighter and the Northern Lights darker. “A lot of people notice it and complain, but nobody did anything about it,” he said.

Lojewski grew up hiking around Flagstaff. His father studied forestry at Northern Arizona University in his youth and loved coming back to visit, bringing Aaron with him. “I could see the Milky Way very well, which is quite unusual for a city of this size. I know what can be done to reduce the sky glow. And Flagstaff has massively limited its light footprint. If Fairbanks can move in this direction, we can have a significant impact. »

When organizers began planning January’s annual domestic tourism conference in Fairbanks, Lojewski, McCrea and others wanted to bring in a dark sky consultant as their speaker. Coalition Executive Secretary and amateur astronomer Drew Carhart made the trip.

“It became really apparent that this was a new concept to almost everyone up there,” Carhart said. “There is no practical understanding of dark skies, of what can be done, of what is causing the problem. My goal was to start from scratch, expose the issues and why the community should care, and promote the idea that Flagstaff has solutions.

“Drew’s information was well received,” McCrea said. “It’s not something people had given much thought to, but it was eye-opening and thought-provoking. That’s the main thing, that’s what we wanted to do, to move the conversation forward. Now, we need to make sure the conversation doesn’t get lost in the future.

“The borough is the largest government entity in the region geographically, but it actually controls very few streetlights. The majority are controlled by the Alaska Department of Transportation on major arteries and highways,” Lojewski said. “What we control is that we can help drive the conversation and form partnerships.”

Lojewksi says his hope is to get the city council, borough and state talking, using amber lighting solutions suitable for dark skies and adopting lighting standards, similar to those in Flagstaff. “Drew raised awareness. He took this great shot of China Hot Springs Resort, 20 miles out of town. The city lights are more evident from there, under those dark skies.

“The sky dome glow was pretty noticeable. It was pretty substantial,” Carhart said. “Flagstaff at that distance you wouldn’t see a light like that and yet Flagstaff is a much bigger place.”

Carhart gave four presentations and visited neighborhoods to assess the effectiveness of different fixtures. “As far as light pollution in Fairbanks, it’s significantly higher than in Flagstaff because they haven’t made any lighting regulations or efforts,” he said.

But Carhart adds that the lighting is not well done almost everywhere in the United States. “It’s just not sufficiently considered or understood,” he said. “In our work with the Coalition since we really identified what the Flagstaff solution is, we ended up putting at the top of the list that community involvement is the most important thing and you’re not going to go away without her.” NBF

By Bonnie Stevens, FBN

Learn more about Flagstaff Dark Skies Coalition board members Drew Carhart and Chris Luginbuhl on Zonie Living: Business, Adventure and Leadership. Find Zonie Living at

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