Silence

Silence: Kings Peak, Courtesy Wikimedia, Hyrum K. Wright, Photographer
Kings Peak,
in the High Uintas Wilderness,
Ashley National Forest
Courtesy Wikimedia
Hyrum K. Wright, Photographer
Licensed under GNU Free Documentation License

Silence is a rare commodity in the world we have created. Our senses are bombarded with all descriptions of sound to the point of sensory exhaustion. Likened to PTSD when violating a safe threshold, it may be time to find an escape.

Our avian friends are experiencing the same affliction.

As I was reminded on my early am canyon run, birds rely heavily on vocalizations to communicate. Lazuli buntings, warbling vireos, the barely audible blue gray gnatcatchers added pleasure to my uphill slog. But not singing for me, rather to attract mates, defend their territory from rivals, and warnings for predators.
The excess racket that humans contribute prompt some species to sing at different times and in different ways. In Mexico, researchers found that house finches raised the pitch of their lowest song notes in response to road noise, and also held them longer. A study published in Current Biology examined song changes of the great tit across ten European cities revealed that in each location the birds omitted the low-frequency portion of their call.
However helpful such biological tricks may be for some birds, the nearer one gets to a densely populated town or city, the less diverse the avian community becomes. Not all species have the ability to work around the commotion.

Silence: House Sparrow Courtesy US FWS Thomas Barnes, Photographer
House Sparrow
Courtesy US FWS
Thomas Barnes, Photographer
House sparrows, which have a significant low-frequency component to their songs, have suffered population declines of two thirds in Great Britain over the past few decades. A university of Colorado at Boulder study found that mourning doves and black-headed grosbeaks avoid nesting near sites where natural gas is being extracted, as they cannot tolerate the noisy compressors. Blood tests revealed that levels of corticosterone in birds closest to the gas compressors were far lower than normal. This initially came as a surprise to the researchers, because corticosterone is the bird equivalent of cortisol — the hormone that prompts the human body to release a flood of adrenaline, increasing blood pressure, and jolting our brain with sugar. Only 21 different species resided in the noisy sites, compared to 32 in the quiet ones.

Many of us have grown accustomed to the hustle and bustle of the 21st Century, perhaps to our demise, but the birds may have a lesson to teach us about the value of peace and quiet: just how frighteningly little of it remains. According to an audio ecologist study, fewer than five minutes go by before the average patch of wilderness is interrupted by the sounds of human interference.

After years of recording the natural environment in places all around the globe, Gordon estimates that fewer than a dozen truly silent places are left. It is not just the birds that are vulnerable, either. The breeding success of some Australian frog species is being impacted by traffic noise, and ocean noise pollution caused by boat engines. Who knows what variety of species may be affected? Noise might seem an unlikely player on the ecological stage, but further study is definitely warranted on impacts of the anthropogenic racket.

This is Jack Greene, and yes, I’m wild about Utah!

Credits:

Pictures: Courtesy Wikimedia, Hyrum K. Wright, Photographer
Sound: Courtesy Kevin Colver
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Leavitt, Shauna, Natural Quiet and Darkness in our National Parks, Wild About Utah, May 6, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/natural-quiet-and-darkness-in-our-national-parks/

High Uintas Wilderness, Ashley National Forest, USDA Forest Service, https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/ashley/specialplaces/?cid=fsm9_002443

Hempton, Gordon, SoundTracker.org, Atria Books/Simon & Schuster, Mar 2, 2010 (reprint), https://www.soundtracker.com/

Hempton, Gordon, One Square Inch of Silence, , https://www.amazon.com/One-Square-Inch-Silence-Preserve/dp/1416559108/

Natural Quiet and Darkness in our National Parks

Natural Quiet and Darkness in our National Parks: View looking east in early summer from Cedar Breaks National Monument Courtesy US NPS, Zach Schierl, Photographer
View looking east in early summer from Cedar Breaks National Monument
Courtesy US NPS, Zach Schierl, Photographer
If visitors find locations in Utah’s National Parks, where very little man-made sounds are heard, it can be a breathtaking experience. A park visitor may canoe along riparian habitat and hear a variety of bird calls, or hike a trail and come around a bend to see a few deer jump over the sage-brush.

These types of experiences may also occur after dark when visitors participate in stargazing or a full-moon hikes.

The southern Milky Way visible during a star party at Cedar Breaks National Monument. We use red lights on the telescopes during star parties to help preserve night vision. Courtesy US NPS, Zach Schierl, Photographer
The southern Milky Way visible during a star party at Cedar Breaks National Monument. We use red lights on the telescopes during star parties to help preserve night vision.
Courtesy US NPS, Zach Schierl, Photographer
Mark and Sallie Shelton said, “Utah dark skies are our passion! The [dark] sky and quiet solitude are magical. Visitors, from around the world, are in awe when they get their first [heavenly] glimpse of [the Milky Way] and see the stars shining like diamonds on dark velvet.”

Protecting the quiet and darkness of our National Parks has become a priority for many managers and researchers.

Four planets and the Moon are visible in the twilight sky over ancient Bristlecone Pine trees at Cedar Breaks NM Courtesy US NPS, Zach Schierl, Photographer
Four planets and the Moon are visible in the twilight sky over ancient Bristlecone Pine trees at Cedar Breaks NM
Courtesy US NPS, Zach Schierl, Photographer
Christopher Monz, professor in the Department of Environment and Society in the Quinney College of Natural Resource at USU joined with five other scientists who have all worked on issues of noise pollution and light pollution to compile the book, “Natural Quiet and Natural Darkness: The “New” Resources of the National Park.”
title=”Four planets and the Moon are visible in the twilight sky over ancient Bristlecone Pine trees at Cedar Breaks NM Courtesy US NPS, Zach Schierl, Photographer”
The Summer Milky Way as seen from Point Supreme at Cedar Breaks NM. The landscape is illuminated by the light of a 1st Quarter moon. Courtesy US NPS, Zach Schierl, Photographer
The Summer Milky Way as seen from Point Supreme at Cedar Breaks NM. The landscape is illuminated by the light of a 1st Quarter moon.
Courtesy US NPS, Zach Schierl, Photographer
Monz explains, “[We wanted] to compile, in one place, the best science on both the social and ecological dimensions regarding the importance of the resources of darkness and quiet, and the consequences of them slowly disappearing in our most precious protected areas – the national parks.”

The book gathered many interesting findings.

Visitors enjoying a quiet day at Hovenweep National Monument Courtesy & Copyright Shauna Leavitt
Visitors enjoying a quiet day at Hovenweep National Monument
Courtesy & Copyright Shauna Leavitt
One is the concept of “listening area” which is the distance an individual (human or animal) can hear normal sounds and calls that they’re evolved and adapted to. For a bird species it might be a mating call, for deer it might an alert response from a predator.

As noise increases the listening area may decrease dramatically.

Monz said, “In the United States noise from roads has increased three fold since 1970.”

A three decibel increase in noise results in a 50 percent decrease in listening area. If there is a 10 decibel increase, the result is a staggering 90 percent decrease in listening area.

Monz explains, “If you put noise into the environment there is the potential for significant ecological implications, particularly for wildlife. They can no longer be reliant on the sense of hearing to carry out normal activities…some species will move out of those noisy areas to quieter environments which creates a displacement effect.”

For humans, this means we have less opportunities to engage with the sights and sounds of nature.

One success story outlined in the book occurred in Muir Woods National Monument in California. Monz said, “Simply by putting up signs which raised the visitor’s awareness of the environment they were in, and the importance of quiet for other visitors, the noise decreased by 2 decibels. This gave folks an opportunity to experience better natural quiet environment and a little bit more biodiversity from the standpoint of hearing bird calls from the surrounding forest.”

The book also provides ideas for managing the resource of darkness in the National parks.

Guests enjoying Arches National Park Courtesy & Copyright Shauna Leavitt
Guests enjoying Arches National Park
Courtesy & Copyright Shauna Leavitt
Monz said, “Right now 80% of the world’s population lives in locations where there is some compromise of natural darkness…most will never see the Milky Way.”

Cedar Breaks National Monument, which has the highest star gazing site at 10,500 feet, received an award from The International-Dark Sky Association (IDA) for preserving its Dark skies.

The authors of “Natural Quiet and Natural Darkness” hope the book will get in the right hands to provide park managers with this easily accessible tool where they can find the best science and actionable ideas to increase quiet and darkness in our National Parks.

This is Shauna Leavitt and I’m Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos:
    Courtesy US NPS, Zach Schierl, Photographer, Education Specialist, Cedar Breaks National Monument
    Courtesy & Copyright Shauna Leavitt,
Audio: Courtesy and Copyright
Text: Shauna Leavitt, USGS Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University

Sources & Additional Reading

Star Gazing, Cedar Breaks National Monument, US National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/cebr/star-gazing.htm

Cedar Breaks National Monument Designated as an International Dark Sky Park, https://www.nps.gov/cebr/learn/news/cedar-breaks-national-monument-designated-as-an-international-dark-sky-park.htm

Burkitt, Bree, Cedar Breaks recognized as Dark Sky Park, The Spectrum, https://wlna-webservice.gannettdigital.com/articleservice/view/98980850/michigan-state-spartans/24.3.57/iphone

Spotlight – The Cedar Breaks National Monument Master Astronomer Program, Colorado Plateau Dark Sky Cooperative, https://cpdarkskies.org/2018/10/17/spotlight-the-cedar-breaks-national-monument-master-astronomer-program/

Consider Soundscapes

Scoundscape Recording Equipment Courtesy US NPS
Scoundscape Recording Equipment
Courtesy US NPS
Imagine yourself in your favorite place outside. What sounds do you expect to hear? The sound of water rushing over rocks? Crickets chirping? The wind softly blowing through the trees? These are some of the natural sounds you might expect to hear, but it might not always work out that way. Recreation areas are often filled with anthropogenic noises like vehicles, people talking, music playing, machinery, and more.

Checking sound equipment set up near the McKinley Bar Trail, Denali National Park Courtesy US NPS
Checking sound equipment set up near the McKinley Bar Trail, Denali National Park
Courtesy US NPS
Soundscapes, or the acoustic environment, are not often thought of as a natural resource, but are actually an important part of the environment. A common reason people go to nature is for peace and quiet. Quiet is considered a valuable resource. Humans have grown accustomed to a constant background of noise, but it is not always good. Escaping to nature can potentially provide relief from noise pollution, but natural soundscapes are becoming less and less common.

Noise pollution significantly impacts human health. Physical and mental impacts can include hearing disorders, sleep disruption, and even interruptions in the cardiovascular and endocrine systems. Sound is more important than you might realize.

Soundscapes may be important to humans, but they are arguably even more important for wildlife. Many animals depend on hearing for warning them of danger, communicating with other animals, and locating prey. Birds and other animals can hear noises from very far away, and noise interference can disrupt them easily. Behavioral responses may include leaving an area for a brief time or leaving an area for good.

Through evolution, some animals have lost sight, because it was not a necessary trait in some situations. Up to this point, there has been no animal discovered that has lost its hearing through evolution. This illustrates how vital the acoustic environment is to wildlife and ecosystem health.

Barn Owl Courtesy US FWS
Barn Owl Courtesy US FWS
Think of a Barn Owl. Hunting in the dark, they rely on the tiniest rustle to lead them to their prey. Their sense of hearing is fine-tuned and adapted specially for this purpose. One ear hole is slightly higher than the other, which allows them to perceive depth through hearing. Also, one ear hole can hear sounds below them on the ground, and the other can hear the sounds in the air. Just by listening, an owl can locate a mouse far below it on the ground. Noise pollution would make it nearly impossible for owls to hunt.

Owls are just one example of noise pollution negatively effecting wildlife. As soundscapes are disturbed, wildlife will be displaced or even die. Public land managers now have the challenge of managing soundscapes. This is a difficult, but soundscapes are important for humans recreating, wildlife, and whole ecosystems.

As William Shakespeare said, “The earth has music for those who listen.”

This is Aspen Flake and I am Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy US NPS ans US FWS
Audio: Courtesy and Copyright Kevin Colver
Text: Aspen Flake

Additional Reading & Listening

http://naturalheroes.org/videos/natures-orchestra/

Bernie Krause, Recording Artist:
https://www.wildsanctuary.com/

Bryan C. Pijanowski, Luis J. Villanueva-Rivera, Sarah L. Dumyahn, Almo Farina, Bernie L. Krause,
Brian M. Napoletano, Stuart H. Gage, and Nadia Pieretti, Soundscape Ecology: The Science
of Sound in the Landscape, BioScience, Volume 61, Issue 3, 1 March 2011, Pages 203–216, https://www.wildsanctuary.com/BioScience2011-SoundscapeEcology.pdf or https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/61/3/203/238162

Wild Soundscapes: Discovering the Voice of the Natural World, Revised Edition Paperback – May 24, 2016
by Bernie Krause (Author),‎ Roger Payne (Foreword) https://www.amazon.com/Wild-Soundscapes-Discovering-Natural-Revised/dp/0300218192

Voices of the Wild: Animal Songs, Human Din, and the Call to Save Natural Soundscapes (The Future Series) Hardcover – August 25, 2015
by Bernie Krause (Author) https://www.amazon.com/Voices-Wild-Animal-Natural-Soundscapes/dp/0300206313

The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World’s Wild Places Paperback – March 12, 2013
by Bernie Krause (Author) https://www.amazon.com/Great-Animal-Orchestra-Finding-Origins/dp/031608686X/

Kevin Colver, Recording Artist:

Know Your Bird Sounds: Common Western Species (with audio CD) (The Lang Elliott Audio Library) Paperback – January 10, 2008
by Lang Elliott (Author),‎ Kevin Colver (Contributor) https://www.amazon.com/Know-Your-Bird-Sounds-Western/dp/0811734463/

Songbirds of Yellowstone and the High Rockies Audio CD – January 1, 1996
by Kevin J. Colver (Author) https://www.amazon.com/Songbirds-Yellowstone-Rockies-Kevin-Colver/dp/1929797079/ or https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/all-albums/products/songbirds-of-yellowstone-and-the-high-rockies

Songbirds of the Southwest Canyon Country Audio CD – January 1, 1994
by Kevin J. Colver (Author) https://www.amazon.com/Songbirds-Southwest-Canyon-Country-Colver/dp/1929797036/ or https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/products/songbirds-of-the-southwest-canyon-country

Songbirds of the Rocky Mountain Foothills Audio CD – January 1, 1994
by Kevin J. Colver (Author) https://www.amazon.com/Songbirds-Rocky-Mountain-Foothills-Colver/dp/192979701X/ or https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/products/songbirds-of-the-rocky-mountain-foothills

Songbirds of Yosemite and the Sierra Nevadas by Kevin J. Colver (Author) https://www.amazon.com/Songbirds-Yosemite-Sierra-Nevadas-Colver/dp/B00004T1L2/, or
https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/products/songbirds-of-yosemite-and-the-sierra-nevadas

Frogs and Toads, Kevin J Colver, August 16, 2011 https://www.amazon.com/Frogs-Toads-Kevin-J-Colver/dp/B005I0C4ZQ/

https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/products/katmai-wilderness
https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/products/saguaro-sunrise
https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/products/voice-of-the-arctic-refuge
https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/products/starvation-creek-utah

Jeff Rice, Recording Artist:
Dobner, Jennifer, LISTENING TO THE NATURAL WEST
The U’s Western Soundscape Archive captures the animal and ambient music of the wild., CONTINUUM
THE MAGAZINE OF THE UNIVERSITY OF UTAH, Summer 2014, https://continuum.utah.edu/web-exclusives/listening-to-the-natural-west/

Vanderbilt, Tom, You Need to Hear This, Recording engineer Jeff Rice is on a mission to preserve the sounds of nature. Why? Listening to them might actually make us healthier., OutsideOnline.com, 20 Oct 2011, https://www.outsideonline.com/1887466/you-need-hear

https://www.nps.gov/subjects/sound/index.htm

A Symphony of Sounds, US National Park Service (US NPS), https://www.nps.gov/articles/denali-understanding-managing-soundscapes.htm