By Steve Hubrecht

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An Edgewater man’s plan to create an official dark sky reserve here in the Columbia Valley is taking tentative steps forward.

There’s still a long way to go for Tim MacIntosh and his proposed Columbia Valley dark sky reserve (which for now he is calling Kootenay StarDome), but his enthusiasm and resolve are strong.

When the Pioneer last reported on MacIntosh back in November 2022, he was just making his plans for Kootenay StarDome public for the first time.

He’s now had a chance to meet with local, regional and First Nations governments. All have been supportive, but most have not yet taken any direct action to support the proposal.

Some have taken at least a few small steps, however, with the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) board of directors passing a motion to look at establishing a dark sky reserve in the Columbia Valley during its next strategic priority setting process, and with the Shuswap Band agreeing to look at dark sky friendly policy approaches.

“It’s definitely a challenge to get the ball rolling on policy,” MacIntosh told the Pioneer. “There’s not a lot of traction at the moment. Hopefully I can keep pushing it ahead, and the traction will come.”

In the meantime, MacIntosh is forging ahead with data collection. He has been heading out around the valley at night and taking measurements of sky luminance at various points in communities, at the edge of communities, and outside of the communities.

“If we do get something like, say the Radium mill agreeing to cut back on its light emissions, then we will have a baseline to measure any changes against,” he said. 

Such measurements have conservation benefits too, MacIntosh noted. Biologists tracking bats, for instance, can use the luminance measurement to see what effect the valley’s nighttime lights have on its bats.

MacIntosh is asking valley residents to join in. Helping out can be as simple as using your phone to take snapshots of public lighting while out for a walk at night, and classifying the brightness of those lights.

“This will allow us to triage the situation,” said MacIntosh. “There are many light fixtures in a given area. But which ones are the brightest, and what can be done about it? We need to figure that out.”

In addition, MacIntosh is working with local artists and photographers to help engage people in the idea of preserving the valley’s night skies.

Some have offered to do some nighttime photography events this coming fall, and MacIntosh has applied for a grant to fund an ‘Art for the Dark’ event at Radius Retreat at Pynelogs Cultural Centre and at the Radium Hot Springs Centre. 

MacIntosh spoke recently with Invermere council, and although councillors liked his plan, they didn’t jump to create any policy around it.

“The ideas make a lot of sense . . . from a citizen perspective it’s a good direction,” said Invermere Mayor Al Miller, adding that it is important to preserve night skies and “we need to do the right things when it comes to lighting.”

But in terms of action on behalf of the District of Invermere, “we need to discuss further with the whole team (Invermere council and district staff),” said Miller. “There are so many projects ahead of this. Council members are supportive, I think, but we need to prioritize.”

MacIntosh added: “It does seem to be hard to jam dark sky friendly policies into existing bylaws. It seems to be an incremental process. “I’m staying positive and staying motivated. I do think we can make a difference.”

Dark sky reserves are protected areas which are noted for particular starry skies, and which make specific efforts to cut back or eliminate light pollution and otherwise protect those celestial views. The idea has exploded in popularity in recent years. In 2010 there were just 10 certified dark sky places across the globe. By 2019 there were 100. By 2022, there were nearly 200.