by Fran Silverman
One of the nicest parts of letting my dog out in the early morning hours in the spring is being able to hear the birds singing, the woodpecker pecking and the hawks making the proverbial lazy circles in the sky. Until that is, it’s all wiped away in a few seconds by the blare of a motorcycle roaring up the street or a lawn mower revving up, which all sends the wildlife scattering.
It’s not that I thought suburbia was as quiet as a log cabin in the woods of Maine. But I do think noise has gotten, well, noisier and more frequent, and just more disruptive.
Between the sounds of fire engine sirens that can wake the dead, the screech of train whistles, the constant drone of highway crews increasingly cutting down trees to brace for fiercer storms brought on by climate change, and the cacophony of construction equipment building yet another mall for more shoppers from a never-ending array of new housing it’s increasingly impossible to find a moment’s peace. And the animals we share our environs with are affected as well.
And it’s not just the daily racket of human sprawl in suburbia and the city that’s assaulting wildlife, it’s becoming increasingly noisy even in national parks.
“Activities such as finding desirable habitat and mates, avoiding predators, protecting young and establishing territories are all dependent on the acoustical environment,’’ the National Park Service noted in a report.
Noise is interfering with the ability of owls and bats to find and hunt prey. Female frogs are having a tough time locating the source of mating calls above the din, birds are changing flight patterns endangering pollination, and carnivores, scared off by a variety of human-sourced sounds, are eating less prey causing their usual target species to multiple at unhealthy levels.
Elevated air traffic noise in a backcountry area of Yellowstone resulted in a 70 percent reduction in the size of an area where predators can hear pray, according to the NPS report.
A 2017 PBS NewsHour investigation found that human-caused noise doubled environmental sound in 63 percent of protected habitats in the U.S. and that areas managed by local government had the most noise pollution.
In Alaska, endangered Beluga whales already struggling to survive are being harassed and harmed by oil exploration sounds that include platform and drilling noise, echosounders and boat activity. In Africa, elephants are running from oil drilling noise as well, The Guardian reported.
“Naturally quiet backgrounds,” Jesse Barber, who studies the effects of noise on wildlife, said in a BBC report, “are an imperiled acoustical resource in many parts of the world.”
So listen up, folks, if we are headed to adding quiet places to the endangered list, the best thing we can do about it is to make noise about the need for humans to pipe down, for nature’s sake.
Communications Director Fran Silverman oversees FoA’s public affairs and publications. Her previous experience includes editor of a national nonprofit consumer advocacy site, staff writer and editor positions and contributing writer for The New York Times.