noise pollution

Quiet has long been a valuable resource, and, as the world gets noisier, it’s becoming a valuable, marketed commodity. It’s nearly impossible to escape man-made noise — even in a state park in the least populated county in Pennsylvania, the air vibrates with a varying but unending stream of car, truck, and motorcycle traffic, vacationer’s voices, plane engines, landscaping machines, construction, and even the hum of electric lines. Noise pollution, defined as “undesirable human-caused sound,” interferes with man and beast alike, lowering our quality of living, and the quality of our open spaces.

Increasingly, people actively seek out silent spaces for a breather from the cacophony of daily life – but fewer and fewer silent spaces exist. The American opportunity to experience solitude and to hear natural sounds diminishes continually.

“Noise impacts the acoustic environment much like smog impacts the visual environment; because it obscures the listening horizon for both visitors and wildlife. Places of deep quiet are most vulnerable to noise.”

Noise is detrimental to humans

After air pollution, noise pollution is the primary threat to public health. Your heart, your brain, and many of the other systems of your body weaken against the constant onslaught of non-natural auditory signals. Such damage has been shown to manifest as heart disease, cancer, depression, and anxiety. Mentally, the ability to focus suffers, retention of information falls off, and problem-solving and creativity are stifled. Agitation increases. Noise often causes an inability to sleep, and lack of sleep causes myriad health and performance problems.

And this is just the result of ordinary, low-decibel background noise — jarring noise, such as car alarms, sirens, and landscaping machines, also spikes cortisol and adrenaline levels. Of course, noise can be directly physically damaging – sounds exceeding 85 decibels (dB) damage your auditory system. (Lawn mowers and outboard motors are about 100 dB, chainsaws are around 120 dB. Leaf blowers and live rock concerts both average 115 dB.)

Noise is detrimental to wildlife

The whine of the leaf blower is as annoying to a cardinal as it is to you. Animals depend upon hearing for survival, reproduction, and communication; inappropriate and/or excessive noise can have dire consequences for individuals, and can bring about species-wide shifts in behaviour, migration, and scope of territory.

Species that can’t adapt, e.g. by changing the tone of their calls, or their hours or locations of activity, risk decline:
Birds whose ability to hear predators is reduced by non-natural noise became hyper-vigilant at the expense of their normal eating habits, which ultimately will reduce their fitness for survival. The chaffinches did not acclimatize to the noise at any time during the observations.

A healthy ecosystem depends upon “properly functioning soundscapes… for animal communication, territory establishment, predator and prey relationships, mating behaviors, nurturing young and effective use of habitat.” National Park Service, Zion NP Soundscape Management Plan, September 2010.  Under natural ambient conditions, an owl may be able to detect prey within 100-square meters of its location – but a mere 3 dB deviation from this natural sound level reduces the owl’s range by a full fifty percent. Id.

Noise degrades the quality of natural spaces

When you visit a park, you hope and expect to hear the sounds of wildlife, and waterfalls and streams and wind in the leaves. When these natural sounds are suppressed beneath layers of noise pollution, or altered because of it, it negatively impacts both our experiences in nature and the very functions of nature itself. Natural soundscape, defined as the acoustic environment that would exist in the absence of human-related activity, is integral to both visitor experience and to normal function of wildlife.

Combating Noise Pollution

With little effort or concentration, individuals can reduce the amount of sound they project into the environment – by not slamming doors, yelling, playing music loudly, etc. Turn electronics to vibrate or silent, wear headphones for music, and speak softly on trails and in campgrounds. Disable car alarms and door beeps, don’t idle the engine, and keep the radio low. Maintain your car or motorcycle to minimize ratting, tire noise, and exhaust noise.

Communities can consider implementing or enforcing noise ordinances, quiet hours, and quiet areas (acreages set aside similar to the designated “wilderness zones” within National Park lands). Government divisions, utility companies, and park concessionaires can weigh the noise and air pollution emitted by various vehicles and equipment before purchasing, and employ more pollutive equipment only when necessary.

Preservation and restoration of the natural soundscape of Cook Forest is integral to both natural function of the ecosystem, and to visitor and resident enjoyment. Excessive and unnatural noises disrupt the creatures’ ability to communicate and to hide or hunt, and our ability to relax and to benefit from this magnificent natural setting.

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