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Best Practices

Glacier Point
Yosemite night sky as seen from Glacier Point. Photo by NPS.

The foremost aspect of managing lightscapes is the awareness of its importance to parks and the fragility of the resource. This is followed by an inventory of conditions and understanding the causes of impacts to the environment. Much of the action of protecting natural lightscapes, however, is done through planning and mitigation. Whether within a park and protected landscape or in a community concerned about its light footprint, planning is critical to retaining the quality of night skies.

When planning for natural lightscapes, the first step calls for recognizing the night-related values that are congruent with a park or community. Second is balancing the need for lighting with the concern for the environment. Zones (e.g. park visitor use zones, environmental zones, or development zones) are often the best framework to implement this. The Illuminating Engineers Society recommends this approach, and it has been used successfully in communities around the country.

The third step is implement best management practices (or mitigations) for outdoor lighting. The National Park Service recommends a six-step process for evaluating outdoor lighting in parks and protected areas. This approach can also be used in communities and urban areas (AstroLab du Mont-Mégantic, 2009).

  • Light only WHERE you need it
  • Light only WHEN you need it
  • SHIELD lights and direct them downward
  • Select lamps with WARMER COLORS
  • Use the MINIMUM AMOUNT of light necessary
  • Select the most ENERGY EFFICIENT lamp and fixture

We should point out that not all energy efficient lighting is night sky friendly lighting.

Finally, night sky quality measurements, outdoor lighting energy use statistics, and other data can be used to track the effectiveness of planning efforts and can guide future actions.


Practical Guide for Lighting, produced by AstroLab du Mont-Mégantic, 2009.

Last Updated: April 20, 2012