International Dark Sky Place designations almost always begin with a small group of individuals who organize to seek formal protection of their nightscape. By arranging for good outdoor lighting policies, rehabilitating poor-quality outdoor lighting installations, and reaching out to educate neighbors and visitors on the importance of dark skies, International Dark Sky Places (IDSP) set a positive example for their communities and countries.
How The Certification Process Works
The International Dark Sky Places certification process is modeled on other conservation and environmental designation programs, such as the UNESCO World Heritage Sites and Biosphere Reserves. Certifications are made on the basis of a written application. The International Dark-Sky Association does not select International Dark Sky Places, but rather a site is nominated by a group or individual with a comprehensive application. There are five categories for designation within the IDSP Program: International Dark Sky Parks, Communities, Reserves, Sanctuaries, and Urban Night Sky Places. Each category has its own set of guidelines based on land management, size, and sky quality.
After reviewing the guidelines, applicants can start the designation process by submitting an inquiry for their site. From there, IDA staff will provide an initial assessment of the site’s eligibility and next steps for the applicant. If deemed eligible based on Program criteria, the applying place will be given a link to pay a non-refundable pre-application fee of USD 250.00. Once the payment is received and the applicant indicates their initially-proposed timeline for completing their project, the place will be considered active within the IDSP Program designation pipeline and is thereby eligible for advising and ultimate review. IDA staff will continue to work closely alongside the applicant as they gather all the necessary evidence in support of the designation as outlined in the guidelines.
Once the application is complete, the applicant must notify the IDSP Program Manager of their intention to submit a finished draft of their application for review. Following, after the application has been reviewed and deemed to meet all of the relevant Program requirements by the Director of Conservation, it is submitted to the IDA Dark Sky Places Committee (DSPC). The DSPC judges the quality of the application and assesses whether the nomination is awarded the official certification.
The entire process takes, on average, 1-3 years from initial inquiry to the formal designation. Download the graphic summarizing the International Dark Sky Places Application Process that shows a breakdown of the process in three major phases. There is no “template” for the applications, but examples of successful applications to use as models are available on the Communities, Parks, Reserves, Sanctuaries, and Urban Night Sky Places pages.
The eligibility of sites for participation in the International Dark Sky Places program depends on the category of the designation sought. For additional assistance, download the graphic of the 2018 IDSP Designations Flowchart for determining the most appropriate designation type for the proposed site.
- Communities: Must have some type of legal organization that is officially recognized by outside groups. This can be in the form of a town, city, municipality or other legally organized community (such as an urban neighborhood or subdivisions). There is no night sky quality criterion associated with this category.
- Parks: Must be public or private land, accessible to the public in part or whole, that is legally protected for scientific, natural, educational, cultural, heritage and/or public enjoyment purposes. The core area must provide an exceptional dark sky resource, relative to the communities and cities that surround it, where the night sky brightness is routinely equal to or darker than 21.2 magnitudes per square arc second.
- Reserves: Must be public or private land of at least 700 km², accessible to the public in part or whole, that is legally protected for scientific, natural, educational, cultural, heritage and/or public enjoyment purposes. The core area must provide an exceptional dark sky resource, relative to the communities and cities that surround it, where the night sky brightness is routinely equal to or darker than 21.2 magnitudes per square arc second.
- Sanctuaries: Must be public or private land, accessible to the public in part or whole, that is legally protected for scientific, natural, educational, cultural, heritage and/or public enjoyment purposes. The site must provide an exceptional dark sky resource where the night sky brightness is routinely equal to or darker than 21.5 magnitudes per square arc second.
- Urban Night Sky Places: Must be a municipal park, open space, observing site, or other similar property, accessible to the public in part or whole, located within the region enclosed by a perimeter extending 50 km beyond the edge of the continuously-built area of a municipality with a permanent population of 10,000 or more people within its territorial jurisdiction, or 50,000 or more people if defined as a “metro area” of two or more adjoining municipalities. There is no night sky quality criterion associated with this category.
IDSP Program Guidelines
These PDF documents are the complete set of rules and requirements for each of the five IDSP designation categories.
- International Dark Sky Community Guidelines
- International Dark Sky Reserve Guidelines
- International Dark Sky Parks Guidelines
- International Dark Sky Sanctuary Guidelines
- Urban Night Sky Places Guidelines
Submission and Review Process
IDSP applications are reviewed by IDA staff to ensure the content meets all of the respective Guidelines’ requirements. When the applicant has a completed draft application, they will need to email a single PDF document to the Director of Conservation with the name of the site and designation type in the document title. Large documents may be provided using WeTransfer or other public internet-based computer file transfer services. Hard copies are not accepted.
Applications are reviewed on a rolling basis and in the order they are received. Most applications go through three major rounds of revisions with IDA staff feedback. Once IDA staff deem the application complete, it will be provided with a batch of other completed nominations to the Dark Sky Places Committee (DSPC) for consideration. The estimated time for the external review is a two-month process, meaning if the nomination is considered complete by IDA staff in April, the applicant can expect to hear the DSPC’s feedback in June. IDA staff will communicate with the applicant and provide an updated timeline for this portion of the process.
It will be imperative to keep an active line of communication with IDA staff, including notifying staff that you plan on submitting your final draft with at least 45 day’s notice. This will allow IDA staff to prepare the roster of applications reviewed by the DSPC. Once a roster is full, additional applications will be added to the next cycle. It is important to note that an application will not be determined as complete until it has passed at least one full round of revisions with IDA staff and has successfully met all of the requested modifications.
The number of cycles throughout a year will be determined by the number of completed nominations, the number of complex and novel applications that need additional consideration, as well as the number of nominations the DSPC can review in a given cycle.
After the DSPC has reviewed the nomination, IDA staff will inform the applicant of one of three outcomes: full endorsement of the nomination as-is, conditional endorsement with requested modifications, or a rejection if the application fails to meet the Program’s standards. If the application is conditionally endorsed, the applicant may resubmit their application to IDA staff with the requested modifications at any time for re-review by the DSPC. If the application is rejected, the application may be eligible for submitting an updated application in the future, but it will be placed at the back of the IDSP Pipeline for additional reviews and guidance.
Finally, once the nomination is fully endorsed by the DSPC, the certification announcement will be coordinated with IDA staff. IDA will publish a press release highlighting the efforts of the newly certified Place with quotes from key partners in the application process and IDA’s Director of Conservation. IDA will also create a new page on our website with the site’s information, including contact information, location, the completed nomination, future annual reports, as well as any media to help promote events and accomplishments of the new Dark Sky Place.
Start The Process!
Have you read the preparatory material and are ready to initiate a prospective application in the International Dark Sky Places Program? To begin, complete our web form for a pre-application inquiry. Use this form to provide as much detail as possible when describing the proposed site and interest in becoming an International Dark Sky Place. IDA staff will then contact you to review the eligibility criteria and how to proceed in the nomination process.