Human noise pollution wreaks havoc on U.S. wildlife

Photo credit: USFWS Mountain-Prairie licensed under CC BY 2.0

Rachel Buxton, a postdoctoral research fellow at Colorado State University, writes about the impact expanding transportation networks are having on remote places. Buxton notes that “noise from sources such as vehicle engines is spreading into remote places,” and cautions that “[h]uman-caused noise has consequences for wildlife, entire ecosystems and people.” Buxton and her team conducted a study using “millions of hours of acoustic recordings and sophisticated models to measure human-caused noise in protected areas,” focusing on “human sources of noise in natural environments, such as sounds from aircraft, highways or industrial sources.” The study 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.”

What are the consequences of these findings? Buxton writes that “[h]uman-caused noise in protected areas interferes with visitors’ experience and alters ecological communities,” adding that “noise may scare away carnivores, resulting in inflated numbers of prey species such as deer.” In addition, although plants can’t hear, they too are affected by noise because “noise changes the distribution of birds, which are important pollinators and seed dispersers.”

The news isn’t all bad, however, as Buxton was “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.”  Unfortunately, the team also found that 12% of “wilderness areas experienced noise that doubled sound energy.”

But all is not lost, as thoughtful management of our protected areas can help to reduce the impact of human-caused noise. Buxton concludes her piece by identifying the strategies that can be implemented to do this, including “establishing quiet zones where visitors are encouraged to quietly enjoy protected area surroundings, and confining noise corridors by aligning airplane flight patterns over roads.”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *