Save Our Dark Skies

The photos used in this post to illustrate the astronomical wonders that dark skies bring us were all submitted to our #inthewildhood photo contest by readers like you!

© Nathan Woodruff  | Lake Livingston SP

Nowadays, light pollution keeps many people from experiencing the wonder and excitement of gazing at the blanket of stars that cover the night sky. 


Because of our industrial society, 80 percent of Americans have never seen the Milky Way. Not only does light pollution hinder us from admiring the stars and planets above, but it also negatively impacts humans and wildlife.  

© Carlos Rio | Inks Lake SP

It can affect our circadian rhythms and serotonin levels, along with animals’ hormone levels and their mating and feeding habits. Light pollution wastes money, lights up places not meant to be lit up (that frustrating neighbor with a glaring streetlamp) and can waste up to 0.5 kWh of energy per house per night (that’s enough energy to power a 50-inch plasma TV for an hour). While many people associate brighter streets with less criminal activity, too much lighting can actually cause a glare, providing the perfect way for intruders to work without getting caught. 


Texas has stepped up to commit to protecting our dark skies, and it has 14 dark sky places, granted by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). Light pollution is reversible, and even you can make a difference. Here are some practical ways to reduce light pollution and fight for our dark skies: 


  • Educate yourself. IDA has tons of resources on its website that can help you better understand what light pollution is, its impacts and how to make a difference. They also have a blog on light pollution. 
  • Only the necessities. Make sure to use light only when necessary, where necessary and as bright as necessary. If you’re concerned about safety, consider buying motion-detector sensor lights with timers. Also, keep your blinds shut at night to keep light inside.  
  • Shop right. Colors matter! It’s best to minimize blue-light emissions, as blue light brightens the sky more than any other color. Consider purchasing warmer white colors when shopping for bulbs. Additionally, find light fixtures that shield the light and face downward to reduce light waste. IDA also has a searchable database to find fixtures that have an IDA seal of approval. 
  • Support IDA and dark sky scientists. You can become a citizen scientist and help measure light pollution, all from your fingertips with a smartphone. You can also become an IDA member and receive calls-to-action or become an IDA chapter volunteer to advocate for dark skies. Also, check out an IDA dark sky park and give your tourism dollars toward protecting those areas. Texas’ IDA dark sky parks include Big Bend Ranch, Enchanted Rock, Copper Breaks and South Llano River. 
  • Educate others. Many people aren’t aware of light pollution, nor do they understand its impact. Consider talking to friends and family, and even kindly addressing your neighbors about their bright light fixture in their front yard. Become an advocate online, set up a table at a local event, give a public talk. Just tell people about it! 


© ofonsecamd | Chihuahuan Desert

Small steps make a big difference — 20 to 50 percent of outdoor residential lighting is wasted due to poor shielding alone. You can help protect our dark skies and everything that lives under them! 


Read more about dark skies in state parks in this Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine story. 

© Ryan Nelms | Copper Breaks SP

If you want to learn more about conservation efforts in Texas subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine.  For a limited time enjoy three months of digital access to 600+ articles and our expanded 2020 Summer issue - all for only $1.99!


Mammal Monday - The Bear Necessities

We're still waiting to see if any wily photographer manages a candid shot of this rarely seen Texas critter. In the meantime, you can enjoy these non-contest entries while you read this week's Mammal Monday by our editorial intern, Landry Allred.

It's not to late to get in your photos! Enter In the Wild Hood and your photo may appear in a future Mammal Monday post!

© Holly Kuchera | Dreamstime 

From scary beasts to cuddly teddy bears, people often misunderstand the nature of bears. Few folks know the true character of these animals that are making their way back to Texas.

Black bears were thought to be extinct in Texas in the mid-20th century but have started making a comeback in the past few decades. They are mainly found in Trans-Pecos regions such as the Chisos Mountains. There are two known subspecies in Texas — the Mexican black bear and the New Mexico black bear — and they are considered endangered in the state.

In the early 1900s, black bears were common in the Chisos Mountains, but because of shooting, trapping and habitat loss, no resident bears could be found by 1944. However, appearances of female black bears and cubs in 1969 and 1978 in the Chisos suggested they were returning to Texas. Since the late 1980s, the black bear population has been increasing. Today, there are approximately 30 to 40 black bears in the Big Bend and 80 in the Trans-Pecos region.

Black bears have also been making a comeback in East Texas. There has been evidence to suggest black bears are returning to the piney woods. Conservation efforts in bordering states have produced breeding populations of black bears, and frequent sightings of bears have been reported in East Texas.

Despite their name, not all black bears are actually black in color. Black bears can range from black to brown to “cinnamon” and even blonde.

Black bears in Big Bend don’t experience true hibernation because of the mild climate and food availability. Instead, they will be dormant for three to four months; they are less active but can still leave their dens to forage.

Probably the biggest misconception about black bears is that they are aggressive and dangerous animals. Many people think of publicized bear attacks on campgrounds or even the gruesome battle between Leonardo DiCaprio and a mother grizzly bear trying to protect her cubs in The Revenant. However, this is quite a different picture from the peaceful, shy nature of black bears.

Black bears rarely attack humans. Fatal black bear attacks occur about once a year in North America. To put in perspective, spiders kill seven people per year, snakes kill six people per year and dogs kill 28 people per year.

© Barb Covington | Dreamstime 

Mother black bears rarely attack when defending their cubs. In fact, there are no records of black bear mothers killing anyone in defense of their cubs. Grizzly bears may act aggressively, but black bears are less aggressive and are more likely to retreat from danger.

Black bears aren’t looking for humans for their next meal but instead prefer easy meals. Black bears are omnivores, and up to 90 percent of their diet consists of vegetable material such as nuts, fruit, berries and other plants. The main source of protein they receive is insects and the occasional small mammal.

While black bears aren’t an imminent threat, interaction with them should be limited as with any other wild animal. With more education and knowledge, we can learn to coexist with our furry friends.

To learn more about native Texas wildlife, subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine.  For a limited time enjoy three months of digital access to 600+ articles and our expanded 2020 Summer issue - all for only $1.99!