Human noise pollution is disrupting parks and wild places



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A red fox listening for prey under the snow in Yellowstone National Park. Noise can affect foxes and other animals that rely on their hearing when they hunt.
Neal Herbert/NPS

Rachel Buxton, Colorado State University

As transportation networks expand and urban areas grow, noise from sources such as vehicle engines is spreading into remote places. Human-caused noise has consequences for wildlife, entire ecosystems and people. It reduces the ability to hear natural sounds, which can mean the difference between life and death for many animals, and degrade the calming effect that we feel when we spend time in wild places.

Protected areas in the United States, such as national parks and wildlife refuges, provide places for respite and recreation, and are essential for natural resource conservation. To understand how noise may be affecting these places, we need to measure all sounds and determine what fraction come from human activities.

In a recent study, our team used millions of hours of acoustic recordings and sophisticated models to measure human-caused noise in protected areas. We found that noise pollution doubled sound energy in many U.S. protected areas, and that noise was encroaching into the furthest reaches of remote areas.

Pine siskin song as a car passes by, Rocky Mountain National Park.
Recorded by Jacob Job, research associate with Colorado State University and the National Park Service, Author provided268 KB (download)

Our approach can help protected area managers enhance recreation opportunities for visitors to enjoy natural sounds and protect sensitive species. These acoustic resources are important for our physical and emotional well-being, and are beautiful. Like outstanding scenery, pristine soundscapes where people can escape the clamor of everyday life deserve protection.

What is noise pollution?

“Noise” is an unwanted or inappropriate sound. We focused on human sources of noise in natural environments, such as sounds from aircraft, highways or industrial sources. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, noise pollution is noise that interferes with normal activities, such as sleeping and conversation, and disrupts or diminishes our quality of life.

Human-caused noise in protected areas interferes with visitors’ experience and alters ecological communities. For example, noise may scare away carnivores, resulting in inflated numbers of prey species such as deer. To understand noise sources in parks and inform management, the National Park Service has been monitoring sounds at hundreds of sites for the past two decades.

Estimating human-generated noise

Noise is hard to quantify at large-landscape scales because it can’t be measured by satellite or other visual observations. Instead researchers have to collect acoustic recordings over a wide area. NPS scientists on our team used acoustic measurements taken from 492 sites around the continental United States to build a sound model that quantified the acoustic environment.

National Park Service staff set up an acoustic recording station as a car passes on Going-to- the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park, Montana.
National Park Service

They used algorithms to determine the relationship between sound measurements and dozens of geospatial features that can affect measured average sound levels. Examples include climate data, such as precipitation and wind speed; natural features, such as topography and vegetation cover; and human features, such as air traffic and proximity to roads.

Using these relationships, we predicted how much human-caused noise is added to natural sound levels across the continental United States.

To get an idea of the potential spatial extent of noise pollution effects, we summarized the amount of protected land experiencing human-produced noise three or 10 decibels above natural. These increments represent a doubling and a 10-fold increase, respectively, in sound energy, and a 50 to 90 percent reduction in the distance at which natural sounds can be heard. Based on a literature review, we found that these thresholds are known to impact human experience in parks and have a range of repercussions for wildlife.

Few escapes from noise

The good news is that in many cases, protected areas are quieter than surrounding lands. However, we found that human-caused noise doubled environmental sound in 63 percent of U.S. protected areas, and produced a tenfold or greater increase in 21 percent of protected areas.

Map of projected ambient sound levels for a typical summer day across the contiguous United States, where lighter yellow indicates louder conditions and darker blue indicates quieter conditions.
Rachel Buxton, Author provided

Noise depends on how a protected area is managed, where a site is located and what kinds of activities take place nearby. For example, we found that protected areas managed by local government had the most noise pollution, mainly because they were in or near large urban centers. The main noise sources were roads, aircraft, land-use conversion and resource extraction activities such as oil and gas production, mining and logging.

We were encouraged to find that wilderness areas – places that are preserved in their natural state, without roads or other development – were the quietest protected areas, with near-natural sound levels. However, we also found that 12 percent of wilderness areas experienced noise that doubled sound energy. Wilderness areas are managed to minimize human influence, so most noise sources come from outside their borders.

Finally, we found that many endangered species, particularly plants and invertebrates, experience high levels of noise pollution in their critical habitat – geographic areas that are essential for their survival. Examples include the Palos Verdes Blue butterfly, which is found only in Los Angeles County, California, and the Franciscan manzanita, a shrub that once was thought extinct, and is found only in the San Francisco Bay area.

Of course plants can’t hear, but many species with which they interact are affected by noise. For example, noise changes the distribution of birds, which are important pollinators and seed dispersers. This means that noise can reduce the recruitment of seedlings.

F-4 fighter jets pass through ‘Star Wars Canyon’ in Death Valley National Park, a spot popular with military pilots.

Turning down the volume

Noise pollution is pervasive in many protected areas, but there are ways to reduce it. We have identified noisy areas that will quickly benefit from noise mitigation efforts, especially in habitats that support endangered species.

The ConversationStrategies to reduce noise include establishing quiet zones where visitors are encouraged to quietly enjoy protected area surroundings, and confining noise corridors by aligning airplane flight patterns over roads. Our work provides insights for restoring natural acoustic environments, so that visitors can still enjoy the sounds of birdsong and wind through the trees.

Rachel Buxton, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Colorado State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The best places to see Australian birds this summer


Rochelle Steven, Griffith University

So, you’re looking for something to do this holiday season that is outdoors but close to home and won’t cost the earth (literally and figuratively). But you want something more than the average stroll through a national park.

Did you know there are over 300 areas in Australia identified for having populations of birds that are significant in terms of their ecology and conservation?

The Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) network was established in Australia in 2009 by then Birds Australia (now BirdLife Australia). Australia joined the program in the wake of multiple other countries and regions that have joined BirdLife International in their quest to draw attention to key areas for bird conservation globally.

Sites are assessed for potential inclusion in the network based on the presence of trigger bird species at threshold population numbers.

About 50% of the Australian network overlaps with protected areas (e.g. national parks), and the remaining 50% falls in private and other public lands. Many are accessible for visitors in search of rewarding birdwatching (aka birding) experiences.

If you haven’t discovered the enjoyment to be had in picking up a pair of binoculars and challenging yourself to identify the birds you find in your view, you are missing out!

Australia has some of the most amazing birds in the world. Tim Low has written about the marvels of Aussie birds in his book Where Song Began (2014).

A Satin Bowerbird in Queensland.

There are books that have been published recently outlining numerous spots worth a visit (e.g. Finding Australian Birds by Dolby and Clarke; Best 100 Birdwatching Sites in Australia by Taylor).

Many sites can be found within a couple of hours drive or less of the big cities. You can go birding independently, or if you really want a fruitful day, you can hire a local bird tour guide who will happily share their skills and knowledge of birds in your area.

Bird tour operators can be found in all capital cities, and recent research published in PLOS ONE shows they visit important bird areas frequently during their tours. Without further ado, here is your guide to the best places for birding close to some of our main cities.

Sydney

Greater Blue Mountains and Richmond Woodlands IBAs provide the chances to see species like the Regent Honeyeater or Flame Robin. Other trigger species here include: Swift Parrot, Yellow-faced Honeyeater, Pilotbird, Rockwarbler and Diamond Firetail.

Diamond Firetail
David Cook/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Melbourne

Werribee and Avalon IBA is arguably Australia’s most popular birding destination among domestic birders. Access to the main birding site (the Western Treatment Plant) site requires a permit from Melbourne Water.

Cheetham and Altona IBA is open access via Altona Coastal Park and Point Cook Coastal Park. Both areas are winners for waterbirds and shorebirds.

Many shorebirds arrive in Melbourne’s wetlands from the Northern Hemisphere.
Rochelle Steven

Brisbane and Gold Coast

Moreton Bay and Pumicestone Passage IBA covers the extent of the coast from north Brisbane down the Gold Coast Broadwater. This IBA is an important site for migratory shorebirds that rest here after their epic journey flying from Alaska or Siberia.

Heading inland the Scenic Rim IBA overlaps with Lamington National Park and visitors to this IBA can be treated to excellent views of the Satin and Regent Bowerbirds. You might even get to see the Albert’s Lyrebird scurrying through the rainforest floor.

Satin Bowerbird
Rochelle Steven

Cairns

Daintree and the Coastal Wet Tropics IBAs provide rainforest experiences like no other. The list of trigger species for these IBAs is very long, but on the top is the Southern Cassowary.

You don’t see the cassowary, but the cassowary sees you.
Madeleine Deaton/Flickr, CC BY

Darwin

Alligator River Floodplains IBA and Adelaide and Mary River Floodplains IBA comprise the extensive river networks east of Darwin. Kakadu National Park overlaps with the former IBA, and Fogg Dam with the latter. At the very least, a trip to Fogg Dam is a must where Magpie Geese and Wandering Whistling Ducks gather in large flocks, giving awesome views.

Magpie geese congregate in huge flocks in the Top End.
Ewen Bell/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Perth

Bindoon-Julimar and Peel-Harvey Estuary IBAs overlap with numerous nature reserves, providing good access for day trippers. Shorebirds and ducks are in good numbers at Peel-Harvey, whereas Bindoon-Julimar provides the chance to see some woodland species such as Red-capped Parrot and Western Spinebill.

The Western Spinebill has a sweet tooth and feeds on nectar.
Julia Gross/Flickr, CC BY

Hobart

Bruny Island and South-east Tasmania IBAs are some of the best places to see birds found in Tasmania and nowhere else. The Forty-spotted Pardalote is a little bird that attracts big attention from birders, together with the Tasmanian Native-hen.

Spot the Forty-spotted Pardalote in southern Tasmania.
Francesco Veronesi/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Adelaide

There are fewer than 50 orange-bellied parrots in the wild: you’ll be lucky to see one.
Ron Knight/Flickr, CC BY

Lakes Alexandrina and Albert IBA is a great spot to see another sought after bird, the Cape Barren Goose. Large flocks of Australian Shelduck are also on offer here. If you are truly lucky you will see the Orange-bellied Parrot, but they are on the decline so be quick.

Kangaroo Island IBA is more than likely a weekend trip, but well worth it to see the waterbirds and shorebirds on offer. The Western Whipbird is an often heard but rarely seen resident and you have a good chance of seeing the Purple-gaped Honeyeater here also.

If you would like to take your birding to the next level, and get involved in bird conservation visit www.birdlife.org.au to find out more.

The Conversation

Rochelle Steven, Researcher – Environmental Futures Research Institute, Griffith School of Environment, Griffith University, Griffith University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Chile – Patagonia: Wilderness Threatened by Massive Dam


The Patagonian wilderness is truly an amazing place. I have never been there, but have been fascinated by it for years. It captures my imagination and wonder anytime I see pictures or footage of it. Now I have discovered that this wilderness is under threat.

The article below reports on plans to construct a massive dam that has the potential to cause massive destruction of the Patagonian wilderness. It would seem that the planned dam is incredibly foolish and will destroy a large section of one of the world’s last remaining wild places.

For more visit:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/chile-favors-7-billion-hydroelectric-dams-on-remote-patagonian-rivers-despite-opposition/2011/05/09/AFcA2aaG_story.html

 

2010 Red Centre Holiday: Destination Videos


I have come across a few videos on YouTube of some of the places I’ll be going to during my upcoming holiday and thought I’d post them here. These include videos of Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park (Ayers Rock and The Olgas), Watarrka National Park (Kings Canyon), the West MacDonnell Ranges, Alice Springs and Cooper Pedy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NSW Road Trip 2010: A Few Thoughts From the Road


It is now day 5 of the road trip and I have already covered almost 3000km. As you can appreciate covering that amount of territory in 5 days doesn’t leave a lot of time to Blog, especially when I have been trying to keep the website updated as well.

See the NSW Road Trip 2010 website at:

http://www.kevinswilderness.com/NSW/nswRoadTrip2010.html

What I thought I might do in this Blog is just pass on a few thoughts that have come to me while I have been driving around this great state of Australia – New South Wales. Let’s call this post, ‘A Few Thoughts From the Road.’

I have often thought that the governments of this country are wasting a great opportunity in promoting tourism in Australia. With such great distances to travel in Australia, wouldn’t it be great if the governments came up with an action plan to improve the rest areas throughout the country. Certainly some of them have been upgraded to a wonderful state – but then there is a lack of maintenance.

Many of the rest areas I have stopped at in the last few days have no facilities at all. Often they are nothing more than an overloaded garbage bin on the side of a road, with limited space in which to park.

To cut a long story short, I think Australia’s tourism industry would get a great shot in the arm if rest areas were improved across the country. It would also be good if hey could be located somewhere with a good view, an attraction, a small park for families, etc.

To go a step further (and this is perhaps pie in the sky), wouldn’t it also be great for the many Australians that drive throughout the country on camping/caravan holidays, if a percentage of these rest areas had some limited facilities for tents and caravans as well?

Perhaps a lot more people would travel around the country if such improved rest areas were created. There would also need to be some plan to keep the maintenance of these areas up to scratch also.

Another thing that militates against the travelling tourism that is fairly popular in Australia (it could be far greater), is the condition of many of the caravan parks across the country. To be sure, there are some excellent parks – but there are also a large number of parks that charge top dollar for run down facilities and grubby grounds. These poor operators need to lift their games to provide good facilities for their customers or they won’t get the return business that caravan parks depend upon. They need to spend a bit of money in order to make money.

I won’t return to a caravan park in which I had a bad experience – whether it be top dollar for run down facilities, poor service, poor attitudes of operators, etc. Some of these places just have no idea how to run a successful caravan park.

More thoughts to come – these will do for today.