Monday, November 9, 2009

Wilderness Lost to Light Pollution

“The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired in value.” Theodore Roosevelt

The two researchers with the National Park Service’s Night Sky Team had arrived earlier in the evening, just before sunset. Packing their robotic camera and measurement equipment, they began a leisurely hike to the observation site. Only a short hike from the end of the road but exposed to the biting wind and cold. As astronomical twilight passed, they finished setting up their equipment and prepared to start taking measurements. It would take a couple of hours to get official results, but a quick scan around the horizon fueled their suspicions. What should be a glorious display of the Milky Way stretching from horizon to horizon instead had a halo of grey, like a cancer gnawing at the very foundation of the heavens. After a couple of quiet hours of taking measurements and documentation on Light Pollution, they reviewed the results.

“It’s official, six years earlier than expected,” said the first researcher.
“Is this the last one?” inquired the second.
“Yes.” muttered the first.
“Bryce Canyon, Arches, Natural Bridges, Craters of the Moon? All succumbed to Light Pollution?” the astonished researcher asked.
“Yes.” repeated the first.

After packing their equipment, they quietly walked back to their vehicle. They stored their equipment and the second researcher pulled out a bag that had been gathering dust for several years. He had been a bugler at Arlington National Cemetery and had not touched his bugle since laying his brother to rest. The loss of the last unpolluted night sky in the contiguous United States struck a chord as deeply as the loss of his brother. Something he cared deeply about had slipped away. The 24 notes of Taps echoed from the mountaintop. Wilderness had been lost.

--Wilderness is defined as "where man himself is a visitor who does not remain…which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions” The Wilderness Act of 1964

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