We celebrate Earth Day on Sunday April 22, 2012, which gets us thinking about conservation of resources, providing habitat, etc., but how many of us think about the effect of artificial light on our backyard critters? April 14-20, 2012 is International Dark Sky Week, which should get us thinking about this often-overlooked problem.
Last weekend I manned the information table for my chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society at the annual Dark Sky Festival which takes place in Harmony, FL…not too far from my home. Harmony is a planned community that is green certified and has hundreds of acres of conservation area protected as wildlife habitat. They also have light ordinance that outlines the types of lighting fixtures acceptable for outdoor night lighting.
Light pollution can cause havoc with many species. With a lot of press coverage, most people are aware of the affects of lighting on sea turtle nesting which confuses the baby turtles when they leave the nest. They are often drawn to the light of parking lots, houses and roadways instead of heading toward the water… not a good thing for newborns.
So, what does all this have to do with our own gardens?
Landscape lighting can create wasted light that can interfere with plant flowering and the activities of beneficial insects. I’m sure you’ve experienced a moth or other flying insect in your home, banging around into a light bulb, eventually doing itself in, tired or burned. Well, outdoor lighting can have that same affect. Certain insects, including pollinators and pest predators are attracted to light and wear themselves out fluttering around or are a captive food resource for other creatures drawn to the light. This can upset the balance of nature and we certainly don’t need additional pollinators being eliminated given the bee problems of recent time.
Other creatures can have their internal clocks upset by artificial night lighting as well. Frogs. Since there are insects to be eaten, frogs too will be attracted to the lights for an easy meal. What is to prevent them from getting burned or dehydrated by the heat of the bulb?
Birds. According to DarkSky.org, 100 million birds a year throughout North America die in collisions with lighted buildings and towers. Further, artificial lights can cause migrating birds to wander off course.
Mammals including humans can all be affected by artificial light. Many people often suffer from the doldrums during winter when the days are shorter. Don’t you always feel better during the summer when they are longer? In rats, artificial light at night suppressed melatonin production, and resulted in an increased rate of tumors. Secretly I’m not unhappy with this aspect given the recent invasion of my car engine by those darn pests. However, I still only have a light on when I need to walk outside and not trip over things.
So, what can be done? Well, nature sometimes provides a little extra dark sky…think lunar eclipse and the longest night of the year. And, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission speaks of three steps to setting up landscape lighting so you can help prevent harm to wildlife via lighting pollution:
Keep it LOW (mounting the fixture as low as possible)
Keep it SHIELDED (fully shielding the light so bulbs and/or glowing lenses are not visible)
Keep it LONG as in wavelengths (use ambers and reds)
Other things you can do is to start by only buying lighting fixtures that are recommended for use around wildlife. Turn out your lights unless they are necessary to safety. Put timers and/or dimmers on your lights. You’ll reduce your carbon footprint and save money in the process…another bonus. Look up at the stars…it will get you appreciating the wonders of a dark sky. Talk it up…mention the affect of light pollution on our wildlife when conversing with others. Download the “Light Pollution and Wildlife” brochure as a handout. You’ll be helping the earth, wildlife and maybe even yourself. Step out of the dark and promote our dark sky!
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