By Coggin Heeringa, Program Director/Naturalist, Crossroads at Big Creek
Some nights, the skies above our Astronomy Campus are so dark that our visitors can see the Milky Way. So, we at Crossroads at Big Creek want to keep our beautiful night skies dark. So do the members of the Door Peninsula Astronomical Society. The program at the DPAS meeting on Tuesday, March 8, at 7:00 p.m. will be “Keeping the Door Dark.”
DPAS Vice President, Tom Gwilym, who recently was named an International Dark Sky Advocate, will present the lecture.Tom willshare examples of local light pollution, and good lighting examples, too. The community is encouraged to attend this meeting at the Stonecipher Astronomy Center, 2200 Utah Street, or to view the presentation on Zoom. (For a link, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put DPAS in the subject line.)
Because he operates the telescope at the Leif Everson Observatory, Tom is well aware that light pollution obscures the views of celestial objects. And at DPAS Viewing Nights, he and other DPAS members frequently hear Door County visitors extolling the wonder of our dark skies.
We at Crossroads value dark skies to benefit our wildlife and plants. According to the International Dark Sky Association, “For millions of years, all life has relied on Earth’s predictable rhythm of day and night. It’s encoded in the DNA of all plants and animals. Humans have radically disrupted this cycle by lighting up the night.
“Plants and animals depend on Earth’s daily cycle of light and dark to govern life-sustaining behaviors such as reproduction, nourishment, sleep and protection from predators. Scientific evidence suggests that artificial light at night has negative and deadly effects on many creatures including amphibians, birds, mammals, insects and plants.”
According to Dr. Douglas Tallamy, author of “Nature’s Best Hope,” lighting up the sky at night is one of the major causes of the worldwide insect decline. He recommends that all outdoor night lighting be shielded and light be directed downward.
Tallamy wrote, “If you’re concerned about security—a lot of people say, ‘I’ve got to have my security lights on’—well then put a motion sensor on those lights so they only turn on when the bad man comes. Even easier than that is to change out the bulbs and put in yellow LEDs. That’ll save you energy and they’re the least attractive to insects. If we did that throughout the country, which would take everybody about five minutes, we could literally save billions of insects every season.”
We at Crossroads are especially interested in night-flying moths because they are important pollinators for some native wildflowers and because caterpillars are the primary food source for baby birds. We depend on moths as essential parts of the food web.
Tallamy explained, “Eva Knop at the University of Bern suggests that the night sky is not helping moths in this regard. Using night-vision goggles, Knop counted insect that visit flowers in areas with no artificial light. When she added light to those same areas, she found that when the lights were on, insect visits (think moths as they are the primary flower visitors at night) declined 62 percent. Either the moths simply avoided the spaces that were well lit, or they were fatally attracted to the lights as if lights were Sirens.
“Don’t ask why insects are drawn to lights because two centuries of research have not produced a satisfying answer to this puzzling question. The point is that insects do fly into light sources by the millions, and each night, we light up the entire world to their detriment.
“Lights reduce insect populations in several ways. A light can kill an insect directly after it repeatedly collides with the bulb. Or the frenetic flight around the bulb can fatally exhaust an insect by burning out its energy reserves. The insects that don’t beat themselves to death or die of exhaustion are waylaid from their nocturnal activities of seeking host plants or mates. “
Protecting insects is just one part of our restoration efforts at Crossroads. But it is an important one because in the words of the late E.O. Wilson who is considered the Father of Biodiversity, insects are “the little things that run the world.”
While Wilson was certainly the most influential entomologist of our time, Wisconsin’s own Aldo Leopold is regarded as the “Father of Wildlife Ecology,” best known for this idea of a “land ethic.”
We invite the community to “Walk with Aldo” anytime from 10:00 a.m. until dark on Saturday, March 5. A route will be marked with green ribbons. At intervals along the trail, quotations from Aldo Leopold’s writings will be posted. People are invited to walk alone, with a family, or with a group to ponder or perhaps, discuss these inspiring words. This year, we will add an indoor component, screening video documentaries featuring Door County environmentalists in the lecture hall of the Collins Learning Center.
At 2:00 p.m. on March 5, we will show the Wisconsin Public Television documentary, “Emma Toft –At One with Nature.” This video tells of one of Door County’s environmental pioneers and her willingness to fight for and protect the land she loved.
The WPS program, “Hometown Stories-Door County” contains several segments (some not aired in the WPS production) featuring Door County environmentalists. This program will be screened at 3:00 p.m.
Installation is underway on our North and Cedar Crossing bridges. As work progresses, short segments of the Creek Trail and Forest Trail will be closed. This leaves many miles of trails on which to snowshoe, hike, ski, and explore. Our ski trails all are open and will be groomed whenever we have adequate snow. We appreciate visitors’ patience as this project progresses. We also appreciate financial contributions to fund the replacement of our Pike’s Passage Bridge. Donations to the bridge projects can be made online at crossroadsatbigcreek.org or by sending a check to Crossroads at Big Creek, P.O. Box 608, Sturgeon Bay, WI, 54235.