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SCV Outdoor Report: Illumination

By Wendy Langhans

Recently, the news has been full of stories about illumination.  For example, LA County is considering creating “a rural outdoor lighting overlay zone” to “control light pollution”.  And the City of Santa Clarita is “replacing high-pressure sodium...with energy-efficient induction lighting”.


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Most of these news stories focus on the benefits such as energy efficiency or providing a clearer view of the night sky.  But today I’d like to focus on another aspect of this issue - the effect of outdoor lighting on wildlife.  The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website offers a concise summary of the three of the ecological effects of light pollution:

1.  Attract.  Here’s one example:  have ever noticed how moths are attracted to porch lights at night?  So - rather doing what they’re supposed to be doing -pollinating night-blooming plants and providing food for bats - they’re concentrated in an area where they can be “preyed upon” in a “trap which exhausts and kills them”.  To learn more about moths and light pollution, check out this website from Florida Atlantic university.

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Giant Silkmoth (Hyalophora cecropia).  (Photo courtesy Dianna Lee Hartman)

2.  Avoid.  Did you ever played hide-and-go-seek as a child?  It’s harder to find someone in the dark, isn’t it.  What’s true for children is also true for small, nocturnal animals, like field mice.  They tend to avoid foraging in well-lit areas to avoid predators.  This reduces the amount of useful, available habitat.

3.  Alter Behavior.  Artificial light may alter animal behavior.  For example, scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany found “that light pollution influences the timing of breeding behavior”.  Males songbirds “near street lights started singing significantly earlier in the morning than did males in other parts of the forest”, which means they “may get less sleep and may be at higher risk of predation”.

People often question the need for making changes to the way we light our cities and homes at night.  And rightfully so, because outdoor lighting is a safety feature.  Any change in the amount of lighting can induce fear.  In fact, recent studies have looked at the ways in which light increases fear in nocturnal creatures such as mice and decreases fear in diurnal creatures such as humans.  But we don’t need scientists to tell us that. Any parent of a 4-year-old can tell you that darkness can be a scary place.

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So what is the optimal amount of light?  Does more light really increase our safety, or does it provide the illusion of safety?  Are there steps we can take to strike a balance, to minimize the impact of light pollution on wildlife while meeting our safety needs?

I think we need a bit of vision here, not just illumination.

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Upcoming Outdoor Events:

Trail Maintenance Schedule.  Come join our volunteers as they help maintain our trails.  Contact Steve at machiamist@aol.com for time and place.

Wednesday mornings, February 1, 8, 15, 22 & 29.

Saturday mornings, January 11 & 25.

Saturday, February 18, 8-10 AM.  Wild birds of February. With our local deciduous trees bare, not is a great time to view exposed nests and the homes of our feathered friends.  Beginners are welcome on this easy walk. Bring binoculars. Meet at Towsley Canyon’s front parking lot.  For a map and directions, click here.

Sunday, February 25, 10 AM - 12 PM.  The Earliest Wildflowers.  Wildflowers already?  Let’s look at some early season wildflowers. For a map and directions, click here.

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You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on "The SCV Outdoor Report", brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.

For the complete MRCA hike and activity schedule and for trail maps, click here or go to www.LAMountains.com.

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