The Mont-Mégantic International Dark Sky Reserve (MMIDSR) is there to preserve for everyone, access to a true dark sky experience, for now and for the future. Shadowing numerous efforts to fight light pollution all over the world, the MMIDSR is the very first International Dark Sky Reserve certified by International Dark-Sky Association (IDA).
The dark sky protection project, undertaken by ASTROLab with the collaboration of Mont-Mégantic National Park, Observatoire du Mont-Mégantic, local communities and municipal, provincial and federal officials, has made it possible to adequately satisfy outdoor lighting needs while achieving considerable energy savings. Moreover, dark sky protection and nocturnal landscape valorization contribute to the area’s distinctiveness and international renown.
Inaugurated in September 2007, MMIDSR stretches over 5,275 km2. It centers on the National Park and Observatoire du Mont-Mégantic and covers an area with a radius of approximately 50km. The city of Sherbrooke, located at 60km as the crow flies, is also a part of the Reserve, as well as 35 other municipalities in Regional Municipalities (RMC) of Haut-Saint-François and Granit.
Since Mont-Mégantic research, education and tourism activities are based on the astronomical observatory (OMM), dark sky protection is vitally important. Unfortunately, geographical remoteness does not guarantee a dark sky and light pollution at OMM has more than doubled between 1978 and 1998. With a growth rate of 5 to 10%, light pollution was becoming a medium-level threat to scientific studies and the vocation of OMM. Considering the stakes for the area, it has become imperative to stop this growth and reduce light pollution. The first steps were taken in the early 1990s. Research scientists at OMM and Fédération des astronomes amateurs du Québec made their concern known then but unfortunately, these public interventions brought very few results.
It was really in the late 1990s that the fight against light pollution really started. OMM had then undertaken steps for renewing and upgrading its equipment and wished to safeguard their observation capability. In 2002, ASTROLab’s president and MMNP and OMM’s directors developed guidelines for a project to significantly reduce light pollution in the area. With the help of Granit Local Employment Center, MMNP and SEPAQ as well as OMM, funds required to launch the project were secured. Chloé Legris was hired as project leader, with the responsibility to draw up an action plan that would be carried out over a period of 3 to 5 years.
Once the importance of reducing light pollution in the area was agreed upon, analysis was done, determining surrounding municipality’s contributions:
- 50% for municipalities located less that 25km from Mont-Mégantic
- 25% for City of Sherbrooke
- 25% for other sources (25km and more)
Despite their smaller size, municipalities located within a 25km radius play a significant role in light pollution registered at OMM. This is due to the fact that luminance decreases as a function of the square of the distance. These municipalities are thus priority targets for light pollution reduction around Mont-Mégantic National Park.
With the consideration of each and everyone’s needs and in the spirit of regional solidarity, in 2003, ASTROLab set priorities required for the creation of a dark sky reserve. The action plan’s primary objectives were to preserve OMM capacity for research and ASTROLab and Mont-Mégantic National Park recreational tourism potential, reduce light pollution by 25% at OMM and promote the implementation of quality lighting which is expected to also reduce energy consumption.
The above photo shows light pollution measurement around OMM taken by Chad Moore (Night Sky Team, US-National Park Services). With the exception of domes produced by cities and illustrated by colours from pink to green, we can see that the background of the night sky is fairly dark and that OMM research scientists have access to a dark starry sky of exceptional quality.
Three focuses of action were identified for creation of the Reserve: awareness, to explain the issues, regulation, to preserve the future and conversion of lighting fixtures, to reduce light pollution. The project was part of the sustainable development movement, and all citizens living in the intervention area have benefited from its effects. With time, its range extended nationally and internationally.
ASTROLab awareness raising campaign was accomplished through discussions with policy makers, training sessions for professionals, and awareness-raising tools for media and the public. ASTROLab has worked diligently and was instrumental to the public and elected officials’ education by:
- Publishing articles in the area’s municipal newsletters;
- Developing awareness rising tools (brochures, calendars, stickers, etc.) that managed to develop a sense of belonging for the people of the intervention territory towards the project;
- Providing educational activities to visitors;
- Broadcasting information on the website.
The awareness-raising campaign has continued until the end of the project, so that its scope continues to expand.
The light pollution abatement project could not be realized without the implementation of a new regulation that would protect the dark sky while in accordance with quality lighting standards. Some regulations concerning lighting control existed before the project, but the ASTROLab team wanted to innovate by proposing to municipalities a framework that considered new trends in lighting and energy efficiency. This was done in conjunction with recommendations of organizations with expertise, such as International Commission on Illumination, International Dark-Sky Association, Institution of Lighting Engineers and Illuminating Engineering Society of North America.
The elaboration process of a regulatory framework adapted to the reality of Quebec took place under the supervision of a group of experts who were consulted through the whole process and who overseed the sustainability, adequacy and scope of proposed standards. After a year of preparation, an outside lighting regulation was presented to Regional Municipalities (RMC) of Haut-Saint-François and Granit and to the City of Sherbrooke. It was adopted by all and integrated to urbanism bylaws.
Following adoption of the regulation, the conversion phase was undertaken, particularly in municipalities located in the immediate vicinity of Mont-Mégantic. Public and private lighting conversion project were put in place with financial support of the following partners: Natural Resources Canada, Hydro-Québec, ministère des Affaires municipales et des Régions, Regional conference of elected officials of Estrie, Mont-Mégantic National Park and SÉPAQ, Laval, Montréal and McGill Universities, OMM and Caisses populaires Desjardins de l’Estrie.
The programme has been highly successful and impacts went beyond ASTROLab’s expectations. Conversions allowed an average energy consumption reduction of 30% for roadway lighting and 60% for other applications.
A world premiere
The work done since the beginning of the light pollution abatement project enabled ASTROLab to lay strong foundations for protection of the dark sky. With the stakeholders work and a 2 million dollar investment, over 3,300 luminaires were replaced in 17 municipalities. This would equate to over 1,700,000 kWh/year of energy savings, or approximately $200,000 worth of electricity in the area. Positive results cannot be denied: with a light pollution reduction of 35%, the Mont-Mégantic region has truly started to recover stars!
Comments from research scientists at OMM and from residents around Mont-Mégantic are most encouraging. ASTROLab founder, Bernard Malenfant, has expressed his enthusiasm: "We no longer see a light dome over these municipalities when clouds cover the sky. And we have to get back to our old habits and use our old flashlight when we walk around the Observatory. It’s really amazing!"
ASTROLab hopes to see expansion of the project scope so that in the future, populations can continue to protect their dark sky. And on September 21, 2007, it was with great pride that the Mont-Mégantic region was officially designated by IDA as an International Dark Sky Reserve, the first one ever to be certified in the world!