A giant chunk of central Idaho with a dazzling night sky has become the nation's first International Dark Sky Reserve, the AP reports. The International Dark-Sky Association designated the 1,400-square-mile Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve this week. The sparsely populated area's night skies are so pristine that interstellar dust clouds are visible in the Milky Way. "That such truly dark nighttime environments still exist in the United States is remarkable," says J. Scott Feierabend, executive director of the Arizona-based association, calling the designation a milestone for the group. Officials say getting the reserve took several decades of work and included efforts from communities on the edges of the reserve to reduce nighttime lighting.
The central Idaho reserve covers some of the most remote and rugged areas in the state and is mostly land managed by the US Forest Service. It contains wilderness areas and the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. The Forest Service has supported the designation as part of its mandate to preserve natural and scenic qualities. It has reduced light pollution from its buildings, but said mitigation by others in the recreation area would be voluntary. Opposition to dark sky measures elsewhere in the US has come from the outdoor advertising industry and those against additional government regulations. Supporters say excess artificial light causes sleeping problems for people and disrupts nocturnal wildlife. (Researchers say light pollution is threatening darkness all over the world.)