Bill Wren’s Passion Preserves the Night Sky

by Taft Armandroff and Sandra Preston

Preserving our beautiful and astronomically significant dark West Texas skies is a priority for McDonald Observatory, whose most passionate and effective advocate for astronomy-friendly lighting is Bill Wren. We are proud that Bill received the Hoag/Robinson Award from the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) in November 2015. The award, named for Dr. Arthur Hoag and William T. Robinson, who both pioneered outdoor lighting control, is given to an individual who has been outstanding in educating governmental organizations, businesses, and the public about the merits of outdoor lighting control ordinances.

For the past 20 years, Bill has worked with city councils, county governments, utility companies, media representatives, and businesses across West Texas and beyond to promote good lighting solutions that safeguard dark skies while at the same time improving safety, cost efficiency, and environmental protection. Bill was recently featured on the CBS News “Sunday Morning” program, where he was referred to as “the Angel of Darkness” due to his efforts to protect the night skies of West Texas, one of the darkest spots on the globe. Bill has also helped McDonald Observatory to organize and facilitate a series of dark sky preservation and sky interpretation workshops for Texas Parks and Wildlife rangers, greatly leveraging the support from the late Board of Visitors and Orion Circle member, Joe Orr, to inspire the public to appreciate and preserve this important natural resource.

On February 16, 2016, the Railroad Commission of Texas issued a formal notice reminding the operators of oil and gas rigs in the vicinity of McDonald Observatory of the law and best practices in outdoor lighting, as well as the need to minimize lighting impacts. Included in the notice is a link to McDonald Observatory's Dark Skies Initiative and an important report written by Bill Wren and Board of Visitors member Stacy Locke of Pioneer Energy Services that scientifically documents how lighting intervention and adjustment using best practices creates win-win situations for all concerned. The release of this notice is the result of a meeting at the Railroad Commission late last year that included Bill Wren, Joel Barna, Board of Visitors member Debbie Dorsett, and Taft Armandroff.

This is just one recent example of how Bill’s tireless efforts have spread far and wide to raise awareness and help protect the dark skies of West Texas and beyond. He has made continuing astronomical research possible at McDonald Observatory, defending millions of dollars of investment. In addition, he has preserved the night skies for the general public. Due to his outstanding work, many laws and zoning rules have been updated to protect the nighttime environment for future generations. Bill has set a high standard for all of us, and his outstanding dedication to night sky preservation is greatly appreciated.