Noise Pollution in US National Parks

Noise Pollution in US National Parks

Natural areas, parks, wildlife preserves – those little patches of green space – are quiet areas where we can just sit and think. Or are they? Unfortunately, local and national parks are becoming louder and more chaotic because of noise encroachment. Contact the Hearing Group for help with noise protection – and remember, the best protection for your hearing is an updated hearing evaluation.

Natural places and noise

Parks used to be the last stand for peace and quiet. But honking horns, jet engines and other noise are reducing the peaceful aspects of our parks, according to a study done by researchers from Colorado State University.

They found 63% of protected areas in the United States are subjected to significant human caused noise. The protected natural areas range from national parks that span millions of acres as well as local parks. Rachel Buxton, one of the study’s authors, said these are areas where people go for respite from the noise and stress of modern life. “Unfortunately, we have found that a good percentage of them experience levels of noise pollution.” In general, national parks and wilderness areas tended to be quieter. But some state and federal lands that allow logging, mining and oil and gas extraction are quite noisy.

Noise encroachment

In more than 60% of parks and other protected areas, artificial noise is so intrusive that a sound you should be able to hear from 100 feet away, can only be heard from 50 feet away. In 21% of the protected areas, there are spots where a sound that could normally be heard from 100 feet away can only be heard from 10 feet away!

According to the study there were areas that had “shockingly high levels” that have to potential to harm your hearing health. The excess noise is more damaging than just irritating humans. For plants and animals, the noise can disrupt whole colonies. Some plants need silence for seed dispersal – revving car engines and the blasting noise of machinery scares away rodents that do that job.

Traffic noise a problem

The biggest noise culprits are vehicles such as cars and trucks, but aircraft noise also plays a part as does equipment used in the extraction of gas and oil. As part of the study, researchers measured sound levels at nearly 5,000 different sites in various nature areas. They then pooled the data as well as other information such as elevation and distance from roads to create a formula that predicts both human and natural sound levels. This formula was then applied to protected areas from neighborhood parks to huge wildlife preserves to gauge the extent of noise pollution.

The results were not encouraging, in fact, researchers said noise pollution could be categorized as “pervasive.” Even in 12% of the wildlife areas where motorized traffic was banned, there was significant noise pollution. In the majority of “natural” areas, there was enough noise infiltration to irritate visitors as well as affect “bird song predators’ ability to find prey, and the prey’s ability to hear predators.” The sound intrusion was found to be 10 decibels above background sound which is considered significant noise. So, a bird whose song would normally travel about 100 meters, would have its melody stifled to a 10-meter radius because of the noise. The noise confuses predators, those trying to escape predators and animals trying to find a mate or contact a mate.

News not all bad

Researchers did find there were intact and unspoiled areas where noise was not yet a problem. They said the study should act as a warning that unspoiled areas need to be protected and maintained as natural soundscapes.

Many protected areas are using noise reducing strategies such as operating shuttles to reduce incoming traffic and concentrating heavy traffic along highway “noise corridors” to isolate sound in the interior of an area. Researchers also built a noise map with their data, so officials can keep a closer eye on some of the areas that are experiencing the greatest noise encroachment.

Visit Us at Hearing Group

We must be aware of noise pollution both urban and otherwise that might harm our hearing. A regular hearing test is the best way to keep tabs on your hearing health. Contact the Hearing Group and schedule a test today.

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