A dark sky is necessary for plants and animals to thrive

The parks in Fairfax County cover almost 10% of the land. This means that parks are near homes and businesses and in rural and urban environments. For those living adjacent to the county’s ecologically fragile parks, it is important to adopt dark sky friendly lighting and light responsibly.

a bright street lamp with the silhouette of a wolf, a turtle, a bird, insects, and a frog depicting the harmful effects of light pollution on wildlife

Light trespass and light pollution affect wildlife and plant life in many ways — from confusing migrating bird navigation at night to having an impact in nocturnal creatures’ ability to hunt and feed at night, be they prey or predator.

Artificial light at night (ALAN) can even prevent the fireflies from finding mates in the summer. Migrating birds are especially harmed by light pollution. And high-rise buildings are particularly deadly for them; they either fly into the glass windows, killing them on impact, or the light from the building attracts them and they fly around them in circles, dying from exhaustion.

Animals are adapted to the moon and stars being the only lights visible at night, so when artificial lights become the most prevalent source of light, it harms and confuses them. Baby seas turtles are adapted to find the safety of the sea by moving toward the moon and stars and their reflection off the water. Unfortunately, the artificial light of beach towns can attract baby turtles away from the sea and lead them into danger.

The life cycles of trees and plants are also affected by artificial light at night, either by extending the fall season for them — so that they lose their leaves much later than neighboring trees — or bringing on spring too early. Similarly, outdoor lights left on at night affect pollination by moths. Some varieties of strawberry plant are dependent on the dark of night to produce its fruit.  Studies have shown that streetlights near rural farms actually decrease the harvest, as they encourage the plants to leaf out instead of flower and fruit.

This tree lost most of its leaves. The only ones that remain are the ones illuminated by the parking lot lights. These leaves are getting a different signal than the rest of the tree.
Artificial light has confused this shrub. The two buds closest to the light are about to burst, but this photo was taken in October. This plant typically blooms in April and May.

Light pollution is harmful, but it is reversible. Lighting has grown as populations have grown, feeding on the myth that more light is safer.

However, well-designed lighting is safer. Light should be directed down where people need it, and light should be soft in color to protect our vision. Good lighting design benefits people and wildlife.

a depiction of different kinds of lighting styles - the first lamp is indirect and bright so you can barely see any stars, the last lamp is direct, on a timer, and soft, yellow lighting, which allows you to see the most stars in the night sky

April 22 is Earth Day and the beginning of International Dark Sky Awareness Week.

Take a minute to reflect on the lighting at your house. Does the light point only where you need it when you need it and just the right amount? If not, consider an upgrade. Visit our new Dark Skies topic page to learn more about light pollution and how we can light responsibly to protect the night.

You can also join us in our One Dark Hour event April 22, 2022. One Dark Hour: Join us and turn off your outdoor lights from 9 to 10 p.m. and look up to enjoy the stars.

Authors: E. Kragie and T. Schwab. Schwab is the Education and Outreach Manager for the Resource Management Division of the Fairfax County Park Authority.

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About Fairfax County Park Authority

About Fairfax County Park Authority HISTORY: On December 6, 1950, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors created the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Park Authority was authorized to make decisions concerning land acquisition, park development and operations in Fairfax County, Virginia. To date, 13 park bond referenda have been approved between 1959 and 2016. Today, the Park Authority has 427 parks on more than 23,000 acres of land. We offer 325 miles of trails, our most popular amenity. FACILITIES: The Park system is the primary public mechanism in Fairfax County for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land and resources, areas of historic significance and the provision of recreational facilities and services including: • Nine indoor RECenters with swimming pools, fitness rooms, gyms and class spaces. Cub Run features an indoor water park and on-site naturalist • Eight golf courses from par-3 to championship level, four driving ranges including the new state-of-the-art heated, covered range at Burke Lake Golf Center • Five nature and visitor centers. Also nine Off-Leash Dog Activity areas • Three lakefront parks including Lake Fairfax, Lake Accotink and Burke Lake, with campgrounds at Burke Lake and Lake Fairfax. The Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole at Lake Fairfax, Our Special Harbor Sprayground at Lee as well as an indoor water park at Cub Run RECenter • Clemyjontri Park, a fully accessible playground in Great Falls featuring two acres of family friendly fun and a carousel, as well as Chessie’s Big Backyard and a carousel at the Family Recreation Area at Lee District Park • An ice skating rink at Mount Vernon RECenter and the Skate Park in Wakefield Park adjacent to Audrey Moore RECenter • Kidwell Farm, a working farm of the 1930s-era at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, now with historic carousel • Eight distinctive historic properties available for rent • A working grist mill at Colvin Run in Great Falls and a restored 18th century home at Sully Historic Site in Chantilly • A horticulture center at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale • Natural and cultural resources protected by the Natural Resource Management Plan and Cultural Resource Plans, plus an Invasive Management Area program that targets alien plants and utilizes volunteers in restoring native vegetation throughout our community • Picnic shelters, tennis courts, miniature golf courses, disc golf courses, off-leash dog parks, amphitheaters, a marina, kayaking/canoeing center • Provides 263 athletic fields, including 39 synthetic turf fields, and manages athletic field maintenance services at 417 school athletic fields. PARK AUTHORITY BOARD: A 12-member citizen board, appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, sets policies and priorities for the Fairfax County Park Authority. Visit https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/news2/social-hub/ for Fairfax County Government's Comment Policy.

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