Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy sent the following letter today to the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors at BOS@Loudoun.gov.
Dear Chairman York and Members of the Board –
I write on behalf of Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy, with regard to the Board of Supervisors expected May 7, 2014 vote on SPEX-2013-0032, the special exception to expand Franklin Park field lighting. I ask that the Board vote ‘NO’ on this proposal, which calls for installing twelve 70-foot lighting towers and four 80-foot lighting towers on athletic fields that are already at a 620-foot elevation.
First, the proposed lighting installation has been estimated to cost well over one million dollars – and running these lights will also require expensive ongoing energy use. Second, the high proposed elevation of these lights will cause light pollution for residents throughout the surrounding area – which is not just a nuisance, but also a human health risk factor[i]. Third, and most central to the work of Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy, is the inevitable impact to wildlife. The impact of artificial lighting on wildlife has been the subject of numerous scientific studies, but has apparently not been addressed in the Loudoun County Department of Planning analysis of this particular project.
Here are just a few examples of the way artificial lighting has been found to impact wildlife[ii]:
– Birds: Over 450 bird species that migrate at night across North America are susceptible to collisions with night-lit towers, including threatened or endangered species like the Cerulean Warbler and Henslow’s Sparrow.
– Salamanders: In artificially lighted areas, salamanders spend more time each day hiding under leaf litter – and as a result, have less food to eat.
– Tree Frogs: Male tree frogs stop calling in brightly lit areas, which means they aren’t reproducing.
Moreover, some research suggests that artificial lighting leads to a higher risk of human infection from vector-borne diseases, due to a combination of changes in human behavior and prevalence of vector species.[iii]
A Department of Planning staff report, prepared for the April 9, 2014 Board of Supervisors Public Hearing, outlines key reasons why the Planning Commission voted against the Franklin Park lighting proposal on February 18, and why 22 out of 23 citizens who attended that hearing spoke in opposition to it. “The negative effects on wildlife in and around the park” was listed as one of the factors.
The report goes on to indicate that Department of Planning staff recommend approval of the proposal, with conditions that will decrease the adverse impacts associated with the increased field lighting in Franklin Park.
With respect to wildlife habitat, the report states: “Analysis of the impact of additional lights on wildlife was not a requirement for this application since clearing and grading that would affect habitats is not required. Furthermore, the Park is established and provides a range of wildlife habitats. Therefore, no impacts on significant wildlife or its habitat have been identified.”
Given that this is a lighting project, it seems a glaring omission (pardon the pun!) that the Department of Planning analysis includes no reference to the wildlife impact of the lighting itself.
Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy asks that Department of Planning staff members go back to the drawing board and study some of the key wildlife impacts that have been documented through extensive scientific research. We ask that the Department then work with an organization such as the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) to determine how athletic field lighting can be implemented throughout Loudoun County in a way that balances the need for people’s safety, with the need to protect our environment and the survival of birds, frogs, and many other animals who are an essential part of our ecosystem. We ask that the Board of Supervisors take the funds that are being considered for this lighting installation proposal, and apply them instead to projects that would provide greater benefit to more residents while inflicting less harm on Loudoun County’s natural environment and wildlife.
Conservation Advocacy Chair
Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy
[i] Environmental Health Perspectives, Jan 2009; 117(1): A20–A27. Chpesiuk R. “Missing the Dark: Health Effects of Light Pollution”, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2627884/
[ii] Concise summary in National Geographic News. October 28, 2010. Guynup S. “Light Pollution Taking Toll on Wildlife, Eco-Groups Say”, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/04/0417_030417_tvlightpollution.html. Comprehensive survey of relevant studies in Rich C. and Longcore T. Ecological Consequences of Artificial Night Lighting (2006) Island Press.
[iii] Environmental Health Perspectives 118:1503-1506 (2010). Barghini A and Medeiros B.: “Artificial Lighting as a Vector Attractant and Cause of Disease Diffusion”, http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/1002115/