My Turn: Please ask them to turn off the lights

  • mactrunk mactrunk

Published: 1/11/2022 1:17:34 PM
Modified: 1/11/2022 1:16:42 PM

In early December, my letter was published notifying readers of the unwelcome lighting of the Shelburne fire tower. I later learned I wasn’t the only resident upset by the light. The Buckland Selectboard received multiple calls requesting help in getting it turned off; I suspect the Shelburne Selectboard did as well. I’m writing to update readers with what I learned.

Permission to use the fire tower from Nov. 1 through March 31 was given by Shelburne Fire Chief John Taylor. Last year the lights were left on 24/7 for the full five months, almost half a year. Funding for the electricity is paid for by the local Masons. I’ve learned nothing about the group of residents who requested and received this favor, nor what the procedure is for making such a request. However, to request that they be turned off, readers must contact the Shelburne Selectboard (413-625-0300, townadmin@townofshelburnema.gov).

The fire tower is publicly owned and maintained. It is located at the summit of Massaemett Mountain, in the Massachusetts-owned Shelburne State Forest. The light is coming from three LED flood lights that residents installed in the control room and directed outward at the windows. The light from the tower is being emitted at an elevation of about 1,650 feet. From my house, about 1.5 miles away, the light is very bright. At that height and apparent wattage, the light affects a large arc of the forest and the night sky.

The Max Planck Institute for Ornithology states, “[a] negative impact of artificial night lighting on natural populations is now widely recognized and no longer contested.” In nocturnal animals necessary sleeping and foraging patterns are disrupted, resulting in decreased survival. Like moths, flying birds are drawn to lighted windows and die from direct contact with the glass, or from falling to the ground as they become disoriented and exhausted. Long-term effects are more complex, but it’s hypothesized that artificial lighting decreases biodiversity in insect, bird, and animal populations as some species are unnaturally favored over others.

Multiple organizations have recently launched lights out initiatives to encourage people to eliminate unnecessary outdoor light at night, including national and state Audubon Societies, Chicago’s Field Museum, the International Dark Sky Association and local affiliates, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. On Jan. 6, two New York lawmakers introduced The Dark Skies Act to decrease bird deaths caused by lighted buildings through out the state.

The High Ledges Wildlife Sanctuary, owned by the Massachusetts Audubon Society, is a valuable asset to our area in terms of tourism and quality of life for residents. It’s featured prominently in Shelburne’s promotional material. So it’s especially ironic that while Mass Audubon is promoting its “lights out initiative,” its abutting neighbor, the Shelburne fire tower, is illuminating the night with absolutely unnecessary light.

Reportedly the Shelburne fire chief and the Masons have heard nothing but praise for the lighted fire tower. So if you are concerned about the health of our natural world or just value a natural aesthetic, contact the Shelburne Selectboard and let them hear your view. Regardless of where you live, please ask them to turn off the lights.

Clarissa Spawn is a resident of Shelburne Falls. She writes: “I’m not anti-business nor anti-technology. I spent my career developing technology for the banking industry and for children with communication disorders. With common sense, we can co-exist.”


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