Minnesotans know the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is a perfect place to see the stars, and now it's being recognized by the International Dark Sky Association.
The BWCAW was certified this year as the 13th International Dark Sky Sanctuary in the world. At 1.098 million acres, it's the largest Dark Sky Sanctuary and is the first federally designated wilderness site to get this designation. It's also the first sanctuary in Minnesota to get the designation, a news release says.
"We are excited to receive the Dark Skies Sanctuary designation for the BWCAW and are committed to preserving dark sky opportunities for future generations," Superior National Forest Supervisor Connie Cummins said in a statement.
The designation is given by the International Dark Sky Association, a nonprofit formed in 1988 with the goal of reducing light pollution and protecting night skies.
The U.S. Forest Service has been working since 2008 to get the Boundary Waters Dark Sky Sanctuary status.
The release, citing a National Geographic article from 2016, says 80% of Americans can't see the Milky Way anymore due to light pollution, and researchers worry people are losing access to the various benefits, from scientific to spiritual, that a starry sky provides.
“Conservation and preservation laws, policy and guidance all lead to the protection of the night skies for scientific, natural, educational, cultural, and public enjoyment values, which are all part of protecting wilderness character," BWCAW Program Manager Ann Schwaller said in a statement.
The release says the Dark Sky Sanctuary designation "confirms what people in the area have enjoyed for thousands of years. Dark skies, starry nights, and astonishing northern lights displays have been part of the experience long before the area was designated wilderness with the passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act and 1978 BWCA Wilderness Act."
The International Dark Sky Association offers five designations through its International Dark Sky Places Program, which was founded in 2001 to encourage communities, parks and protected areas to preserve and protect dark skies through responsible policies and public education. The designation the BWCAW received - International Dark Sky Sanctuaries - is given to the most remote and often darkest places in the world whose conservation state is most fragile.
Here's the full list of Dark Sky Sanctuaries;
- !Ae!Hai Kalahari Heritage Park (South Africa)
- Aotea / Great Barrier Island (New Zealand)
- Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
- Cosmic Campground (U.S.)
- Devils River State Natural Area - Del Norte Unit (U.S.)
- Gabriela Mistral (Chile)
- Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument (U.S.)
- Massacre Rim (U.S.)
- Niue (NU)
- Pitcairn Islands (B.O.T.)
- Rainbow Bridge National Monument (U.S.)
- Stewart Island / Rakiura (New Zealand)
- The Jump-Up (Australia)