Noise Pollutes National Parks

Park Service seeks to protect quietest parks from offending sounds
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Park Service seeks to protect quietest parks from offending sounds

For most of us, national parks serve as a refuge from man-made sounds—the only human noises you should have to deal with in the wilderness are the snores of your tentmate (and a dirty sock takes care of that in a pinch). But the reach of human clattering has started to breach the borders of even our quietest national park: Exploratory oil wells could shatter the otherworldly calm of Great Sand Dunes National Park, declared the quietest park in the U.S. by the NPS's Natural Sounds Program Office.

But environmental groups and the parks haven't remained silent on the issue. In fact, they've sued to halt drilling in the adjacent Baca National Wildlife Refuge, claiming the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service failed to conduct an adequate environmental evaluation on the claims in their jurisdiction. Last month, a federal judge in Denver gave the park service a preliminary victory by issuing an injunction against the Canadian energy company planning to drill the 14,000-foot-deep wells only 2 miles from Great Dunes' borders. If the judge ultimately sides with the NPS, it will force federal agencies to evaluate the soundscapes of wild places when managing public lands.

The lawsuit has started a debate about the meaning of sound and silence in wild places. Beyond annoying hikers and wilderness lovers, there's strong evidence that noise pollution can disrupt wildlife patterns and behaviors. Colorado State University researchers have found that noises from oil drilling in Canada cause decreased bird pairings by interfering with the songs males use to attract mates.

These findings and others prompted the Park Service to issue a joint statement with CSU regarding their upcoming noise pollution analysis. The statement doubles as a declaration of purpose for noise management in parks moving forward.

"The preponderance of evidence argues for immediate action to manage noise in protected natural areas. Quieting protected areas is a prudent precaution in the face of sweeping environmental changes, and a powerful affirmation of the wilderness values that inspired their creation."

 Where are your favorite quiet places in the wild? Let us know in the comments section below.

—Ted Alvarez

Solitude Becomes Exhibit A in Battle Over National Park's Management (NY Times)

via The Goat

Image Credit: SC fiasco