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Noise pollution affects people and wildlife in national parksNoise pollution affects people and wildlife in national parks

The Effects of Noise Pollution on National Parks and Wildlife

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Think your neighborhood in the city is too loud? Do you ever get woken up at night by the sounds of traffic or airplanes or trains? Well, it turns out that noise pollution may be impacting national parks and wildlife as well as urban-dwelling humans.

According to researcher Kurt Fristrup at the National Park Service, “both noise and light pollution are growing far faster than the human population of the United States. They’re somewhere between doubling and tripling every 20 to 30 years.” However, scientists are now beginning to understand that the overflow of noise from cities can have big impacts on natural areas far away.

In order to determine the effect that our metropolitan noise pollution has on wilderness areas, Fristrup and his team set up 600 sound gauges in national parks and used computer models to extend their findings to natural areas throughout the nation.

The team discovered that, more often than not, “noise is not confined to the built environment,” said Fristrup. Depending on weather conditions, noise from traffic and, especially, from airplanes travels deep into the areas surrounding cities, roads and flight paths. Even in isolated areas in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, the team found that it was common to hear large aircraft flying above.

Although noise levels in national parks have not yet reached a point where laws protecting the purity of the land are being violated, the researchers are worried that the effects of traveling noise may decrease the value of the natural experience for visitors. According to Fristrup, “[noise pollution] has the same effect on your hearing as fog has on your vision.”

As Fristrup and his team point out, many studies have shown that natural sounds – such as wind through the trees, songs of birds and trickling water – have a calming effect on human beings while noises such as traffic and airplanes put people on edge.

However, noise pollution doesn’t just impact human visitors to national parks and wilderness areas. Cal Poly biologist Clinton Francis recently published a report noting that noise pollution (or anthropogenic noise) affects wild bird populations and, in some cases, can change the pitch of their songs and hinder their ability to navigate and hunt for food. While the effects of noise pollution in other species has yet to be delved into, Francis also noted that its ability to drive small animals away prevents many types of trees and plants from successfully pollinating.

As a result of recent studies such as Fristrup’s, National Park Service official are looking for ways to lessen noise pollution throughout the nation’s parks. Yellowstone National Park is currently offering incentives for tour guides who are able to find quieter ways of showing visitors the park’s attractions. Other parks, such as Yosemite, are looking into rerouting flight paths to avoid noise pollution from traveling airplanes.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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