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Preserving the night sky in Austin

Tuesday, February 11, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

Most evenings in Central Texas, the sky transforms into the legendary violet crown before falling into darkness. Although humans wait for the beauty of the sunset, it is the darkness that animals need, according to Cliff Kaplan of the Hill Country Alliance. “All of the creatures of Central Texas rely on dark nights. That’s what they evolved for,” he told the Environmental Commission at its Feb. 5 meeting. Golden-cheeked warblers navigate by starlight and fireflies communicate in darkness. Darker skies are also a money-saving tool for municipalities. “Thirty-three percent of all outdoor lighting is wasted by going where it’s not intended to go,” Kaplan said. That waste translates to 15 million tons of wasted carbon dioxide and $3 billion spent on unintended lighting nationwide. Commissioners agreed that preserving the natural darkness was an important effort. Commissioner Katie Coyne said it was “vital” to think about the growth happening to the east and how municipalities and developers can work to contain unused light. She said dark skies discussions are mainly centered west of the city, currently. Kaplan said one way to ensure dark skies across Austin was to regulate lighting in the Land Development Code rewrite. The draft addresses shielding light sources, but Kaplan said the city can also regulate capping lumens, the color temperature of LED bulbs and grandfathering nonconforming lighting in redevelopment projects. The Hill Country Alliance is collaborating with private and public entities across 17 counties to make such dark-sky-friendly adjustments voluntary. The alliance is also collaborating with the developers of the new Major League Soccer stadium, who have expressed interested in pursuing an International Dark-Sky Association distinction, and is in conversation with the city about making the South Central Waterfront district night-sky-friendly.

This article has been corrected to remove an incorrect reference to the Hill Country Conservancy.

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