Creation of the largest international dark sky reserve in the world

The Milky Way hovers above the Mount Locke domes of McDonald Observatory, highlighting the dark skies of the area. Credit: Stephen Hummel/McDonald Observatory

The world’s largest international dark-sky preserve is coming to Texas and Mexico, thanks to a partnership between the University of Texas at Austin’s McDonald Observatory, The Nature Conservancy, the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) and many others. The designation, granted by the IDA, recognizes the commitment of organizations, governments, businesses and residents of the region to maintaining dark skies. This decision will not only benefit astronomical research, but also wildlife, ecology and tourism.

The new Greater Big Bend International Dark Sky Preserve will encompass more than 15,000 square miles in parts of western Texas and northern Mexico. It is the only reserve of its type to cross an international border.

“This reserve protects both the scientific research and public education missions of the McDonald Observatory,” said Taft Armandroff, director of the McDonald Observatory at UT Austin. “Since 1939, the observatory has enabled the study of the cosmos by faculty, students, and researchers at UT Austin and other Texas institutions of higher education, with topics ranging from planets orbiting ‘stars close to the accelerated expansion of the universe.’

The core of the reserve, where dark sky protection is strongest, is formed by the lands of McDonald Observatory and The Nature Conservancy’s Davis Mountain Preserve. The reserve will protect many wildlife habitats and migration corridors passing through the Big Bend area.

“We are honored to be part of the Greater Big Bend International Dark Sky Preserve,” said Kaylee French, education and outreach coordinator for the Davis Mountain Preserve. “This collaboration uniquely brings together working partners across a broad spectrum, which crosses international borders. Our dark skies are an invaluable natural resource that we can only preserve by working together, and we thank the International Dark-Sky Association for helping us to be responsible stewards of this protected resource now and forever.

The new Greater Big Bend International Dark Sky Preserve covers 15,000 square miles in western Texas and northern Mexico. It is the largest international dark sky reserve in the world. Credit: Tim Jones/McDonald Observatory

The total extent of the reserve spans the Rio Grande from the Davis Mountains of western Texas to the Sierra del Carmen of northern Mexico. In the United States, it includes the Texas counties of Jeff Davis, Brewster, Presidio, and a small portion of Reeves County. It also includes Big Bend National Park, Big Bend Ranch State Park, Black Gap Wildlife Management Area, and Chinati Mountains State Natural Area.

South of the Rio Grande in Mexico, the reserve includes protected lands in the regions of Maderas del Carmen, Ocampo and Cañón de Santa Elena.

Four counties and five municipalities in the proposed reserve area have updated their lighting ordinances to the latest standards from the International Dark-Sky Association in support of the request to create the reserve.

“The certification of this reserve is truly a historic moment for the dark sky movement,” said IDA Conservation Director Ashley Wilson. “We acknowledge decades of hard work, nighttime environmental stewardship, stellar outreach programs, and multiple local incentives to provide tangible, achievable solutions that limit the spread of excessive and unnecessary artificial light. This demonstrates that landscape-scale dark sky partnerships and efforts can become a reality through the dedication of a team of key stakeholders and passionate communities.

It took a large and diverse group of advocates on both sides of the border to make the reserve a reality. Additionally, the nomination was supported by representatives from the National Park Service, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and Mexico’s National Commission for Protected Natural Areas.

“Without the broad regional support and longstanding efforts to preserve the natural beauty of the Big Bend area, a Dark Sky Preserve of this magnitude would not have been possible,” said observatory superintendent Teznie Pugh. Mcdonalds. “This has been a true community effort, and locals should be proud of what we have all achieved together.”

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Creation of the largest international dark sky reserve in the world (2022, April 7)
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