As people come to Big Bear Valley from “down-the-hill,” one of the big differences they notice is how dark it is at night. In the city, with continuous ambient light from the surrounding ‘civilization,’ there is never complete darkness.
Not so, up here in the mountains. Especially in the residential and outlying areas, nighttime is dark enough that even a short walk outside requires a flashlight. That darkness allows amazing views of the night sky. On a moonless night, the band of the Milky Way galaxy stretches across a sky filled with more stars than seems possible. From this treasured darkness, it is easily possible to view, with wonderful clarity, every meteor shower, comet and satellite that passes this way.
Unfortunately, as the number of houses and people in the valley increases, some of the issues faced with ‘city-living’ are brought to the mountains. And one of those is increasing levels of ambient light being cast into our darkness. Often, second-homeowners, or new residents, are unused to the darkness. To feel more at home or ‘safer’ in the familiarity of the light city, they turn on outside lights and leave them on all night. And every time someone does that, a few more stars disappear from visibility.
In an attempt to minimize this trend, the County of San Bernardino passed a light ordinance in 2003 “to provide broader protection of the night sky.” Certain sections apply specifically to the mountain and desert areas of the county and are meant to “…encourage lighting practices and systems which will minimize light pollution, glare and light trespass, conserve energy and resources, and curtail the degradation of the nighttime visual environment.” The ordinance defines types of lighting appropriate to keep the sky dark and prevent the light from trespassing onto neighboring or public properties. The full details can be found by typing ‘San Bernardino County light ordinance’ into the computer browser, or by calling the county for a copy of the ordinance.
Maintaining environmental darkness, however, is about much more than just viewing celestial bodies. Increasing levels of nighttime ambient light wreak havoc with the circadian rhythms of wildlife. Birds have become confused by high levels of ambient light and disrupted their breeding cycles; bats whose roosts are illuminated leave them too early and have feeding times and effectiveness thrown out of kilter; insects simply fly around above light sources until they die from exhaustion and fail to breed, limiting food availability for birds and animals higher up the food chain.
Lack of darkness also shifts human circadian rhythms. Recent studies are connecting these shifts with profound impacts on human health, from insomnia to cancer, and especially to breast cancer. Human beings need darkness, it turns out, as much as they need light.
So, for the sake of our valley’s beautiful sky views, the continued abundance of our precious wildlife, and our own health and restfulness, please turn out the lights!