Preserving the Sound of Silence in Zion National Park


Zion National Park. Photo: Rene Schwietzke / Creative Commons.

With many roads closed today for a marathon cutting through the city, parts of Istanbul were wonderfully -- if eerily -- quiet and peaceful. Though I've become accustomed to the constant drone of urban noise, its occasional absence reminds me just how much sound is a key, if little-considered, aspect of how we experience places, whether natural or developed. For just that reason, a landmark program is under way in Utah to preserve how a popular national park sounds.The first of its kind in a major national park, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, the new Soundscape Management Plan at Zion National Park seeks to protect "attributes of sound -- and the lack of it -- for the benefit of wildlife and the nearly 3 million annual visitors."

Park officials have been monitoring sound 24 hours a day in various parks of Zion since 2007, using portable, solar-powered devices. The sound maps they've created with the data are being used to help park managers figure out what needs to be done to preserve the current soundscape, something they call "as valuable as air quality and watershed" despite its intangibility.

Reducing Human-Caused Sounds
In the park's back country, for example, officials want to increase the gaps between each occurrence of human-caused sounds (generally made by aircraft) from the current two or three minutes to seven minutes. Reducing the amount of such sounds that penetrate wild areas of the park will help ensure that animals do not face further difficulties detecting prey -- and preserve one of the key things people come to national parks to enjoy.

"Surveys have shown that 90 percent of people who visit the national parks want natural quiet and to be able to hear the sounds of nature," Kezia Nielsen, an environmental protection specialist who worked on the project, told the Tribune. "It's important for people who get out of the big cities to be able to hear nature, from the rustling of the wind to even insects moving through leaves."

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Tags: Animals | Conservation | United States | Utah