4 Reasons Why The Western US has Dark Skies

Bortle Scale International Dark Sky Association Buying Land Light Pollution COVID

Not every US state is equal, which provides unique identities and fun things to learn about. Today, let’s look at some reasons why the Western USA seems to have a plethora of potential dark sky locations and less light pollution in some rural areas.

Larger Areas

If one looks at the largest US states by size, the results are pretty clear. The states west of the Mississippi River are all either in the top 25 or 30 in size. This means more room for people to settle in, but also it has led to large areas that were settled later than the East Coast. By the time that the western territories applied for statehood, the US government was giving out land and trying to promote settlement. The last thing the US wanted was another country or countries to settle that land. The resulting large state size means more opportunities for things that align with a dark sky such as National Parks and other recreational opportunities.

Smaller People Density

As shown in the image below from 2011, population density in the Eastern US is significantly higher than the Western US. With this difference in density, comes different city and infrastructure configurations. Thus leading to less potential amounts of light pollution.

Having been admitted into the US later than most of the states on the East Coast, Congress also granted larger areas for these states. Which also contributed to the large size and low densities.

Government Owned Lands

There happens to be a an interesting statistic in the US. The Eastern States have fewer percentage of their land owned by the US than out west. People love the outdoors, but more government owned lands means less tax revenue for states. We understand that the following numbers are general amounts by the federal government not broken down but still show big disparities!

StatePercent Government Owned
New York0.8%

What this means is fewer people living in these places as some of this land includes natural areas that are protected and preserved as well as used for other government purposes and not densely populated cities.

Economic Opportunities/Development

Another aspect that affects light pollution and how dark the sky is, relates to geography, economic development, and natural resources. What this means is that the distribution of the population depends on the industries and location of the state. States like California and Nevada have a lot of mineral wealth when they were admitted into the US as states. Therefore the early cities were .. another example of this can be seen in cities like Seattle and Portland, where both cities became big because they were great port cities and trading hubs. Portland was a good timber trading hub and Seattle… Obviously things have changed since the founding of these cities, but these historic developments have shaped how people moved and cities grow. As many of the big cities around the world are near water, and railroads were a big means of transportation across early America. Knowing these and other trends allows us to see how towns are few and far between in the Western US is also related to how people and good move and when.

What do you think? Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments below or via social media. We post articles regularly, on a weekly basis, so come back next week for more articles like this!

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