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The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness doesn't take a backseat to, well, anything, but it'll have to now in one instance: it's no longer the largest dark sky "sanctuary" in the world.

The skies above an area of southern Oregon are considered among the darkest in the world and, at 2½ million acres, now the largest. The area is called the Oregon Outback for its remoteness and rugged mix of mountains and river basins.

DarkSky International, formerly the International Dark-Sky Association, announced the news this week. The group campaigns to protect dark skies and wildlife from light pollution. It certifies Dark Sky sanctuaries, parks and reserves.

The president of Minnesota-based Starry Skies North, a nonprofit whose mission also brings awareness to the harmful effects of light pollution, said the Oregon news will force him to change his message to the public — slightly.

"I'm just as happy to say we are the second-largest sanctuary, because that means there is progress," said Todd Burlet.

DarkSky International reserves the "sanctuary" designation for the most remote, darkest places.

The BWCAW was certified in September of 2020 to the delight of Cook County tourism officials, Minnesota astrophotographers, stargazers and wilderness protectors as the world's 13th dark sky sanctuary. At more than 1 million acres, the BWCAW was the largest at the time. Said the association: "This designation confirms what people in this area have enjoyed for thousands of years: naturally dark skies, starry nights, and astounding northern lights displays."

Voyageurs National Park was named an International Dark Sky Park a few months later in December.

"With Boundary Waters and the Oregon Outback, these two dark sky sanctuaries are special because of the sheer size of the land and sky being protected," said DarkSky spokesperson Michael Rymer.While the designations have no legal weight, they in part bring attention to the use of artificial light for land managers and its impact on public health and the rhythm of an area's natural cycles.

Burlet said his group currently is offering guidance to three Minnesota state parks seeking certification: Glendalough in Battle Lake; Sibley in New London; and Forestville-Mystery Cave in Preston.

Bob King of Duluth, aka Astro Bob to his astronomy readers and followers, was involved in educating people as Voyageurs Conservancy pursued the special status for the national park. He's in step with Burlet.

"It's just happy news to me that people care," King said. "It nourishes my soul in a good way because it is upsetting to see how much light pollution has increased in the last 20 years."

"My reaction [to the new largest sanctuary]? Oh, more dark sky! Preserve it. Keep it."