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Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge named first-ever IDA Urban Night Sky Place

The International Dark-Sky Association is pleased to announce the certification of Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge as the organization’s first Urban Night Sky Place (UNSP). This designation is the first of its kind, developed by IDA in 2018 to draw attention to the role urban protected landscapes play in raising public awareness of light pollution. The Urban Night Sky Places program emphasizes efforts to protect natural darkness near densely populated places with environmentally sensible lighting.

Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge is just 11 km (7 miles) south of the city center of Albuquerque, New Mexico, a U.S. city with a metropolitan area population of 900,000 inhabitants. The Refuge is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and provides 226 hectares (560 acres) of restored habitat for wildlife habitat and migratory birds. Promoting itself as a place for people to get outside and enjoy nature along the Rio Grande River, Valle de Oro demonstrates how people and wildlife can co-exist in a protected space close to a major urban center. Now, it’s also a place to demonstrate how people can use environmentally responsible lighting in densely populated areas to protect wildlife, save energy, maintain safe lighting standards, and protect our view of the night sky.

Valle de Oro is the first urban wildlife refuge in the Southwest, established in 2012 on the site of a former dairy farm. In recent years, land managers have worked to restore the farmland into a natural floodplain habitat, including shallow seasonal wetlands, bosque, grasslands, and upland habitats. The UNSP designation now ensures a safe, natural habitat during nighttime hours, as well as during the day. “The key is to light only when and where you need it,” says Refuge Manager Jennifer Owen-White. “We want people and wildlife to enjoy the refuge, and keeping it dark when needed minimizes any harm to wildlife while allowing people to learn about the night sky and its wonders.”

During Valle de Oro’s application process, Owen-White and her staff worked to ensure the lighting at the refuge is fully shielded and at color temperatures of 3,000 kelvins or lower to minimize blue light. Visitors to Valle de Oro can expect an enriching nighttime experience that shows off good lighting while also providing a natural wildlife experience, and opportunities for stargazing close to home.

As light pollution continues to increase most rapidly in the world’s cities, the need to address lighting in urban situations is more important than ever, notes IDA Executive Director Ruskin Hartley: “The designation of Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge as the world’s first IDA Urban Night Sky Place is particularly noteworthy at a time when cities around the world grow ever-brighter.”

“This achievement shows that lighting where we live and work matters, and we can think of no better recipient for the first designation of this kind than a place like Valle de Oro that exemplifies how humans and wildlife can coexist, day and night,” Hartley added.

Valle de Oro has set a new standard for creating management plans and establishing lighting practices appropriate for virtually any protected area in the urban environment. IDA looks forward to ushering in a new era of awareness of nighttime darkness and light pollution among practitioners of urban conservation with the UNSP designation.

To learn more about the Urban Night Sky Places, visit