I spend each summer living in my camper while writing books and doing Nature photography. My primary locations are in the forests and meadows of the United States. My camper is equipped to travel on rough roads to remote locations on public lands that are managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the US Forest Service (USFS), and other organizations that are stewards of Nature.
For the most part, I avoid public and private campgrounds because some campers and campground operators have very little concern about the ecological impact of human induced noise. With a few exceptions where RV generator usage is completely prohibited, campground rules prohibit noise from 10PM to 6AM. These rules are more for the benefit of human beings than the wildlife who live in or around campgrounds. The National Park Service (NPS) says
“Be aware that the noise you make could affect other visitors, and encourage friends and family to do the same.”
There is no mention by the NPS of the potential noise impact on the environment.
I am particularly concerned about the noise pollution of RVs in otherwise quiet campgrounds. I had two experiences this summer that caused me deep concern. The BLM operates “Cowboy Camp” near the entrance to Canyonlands National Park North in Utah. This small campground does not encourage RVs and prohibits trailers. The typical camper is a quiet, respectful tent camper or small truck camper. A sign specifically prohibits the use of RV generators. During my visit this past summer, a class B RV pulled into the campground and started his generator. I protested, pointing out the sign. The RVer complained that he was unable to make coffee without his generator. Despite me offering to make him coffee using my propane stove, he fired up his generator. He had no regard for the other campers and no consciousness about how his noise might be affecting the ecosystem.
Later in the summer, I visited a favorite campground operated by the BLM near Datil, New Mexico. This campground permits RVs but almost all campers are quiet and respectful of the environment. However, one RV owner broke the wonderful silence and stopped Nature’s soundscape. He fired up his generator at 5PM and kept it going until 10PM. Then he fired it up in the morning at 6 AM again. Everyone in the campground could hear his noise. The wonderful chorus of bird sounds immediately stopped while this person ran his generator.
To its credit, BLM seems to be sensitive to the impact of RV noise on the environment. BLM’s Valley of Fire campground in New Mexico has RV electrical hookups at some campsites for a higher fee eliminating the RVers need for generators. I am told that the BLM has budgeted construction of a similar arrangement at Datil Well campground. The offering of RV hookups is a good compromise solution to RV noise pollution issues in public campgrounds.
What irks me is that RV owners seem to have this sense of entitlement. If the campground rules limit the hours of noise, RVers will run their generators during permitted periods even though the campground is otherwise perfectly quiet and Nature is offering its wonderful chorus. It baffles me that people come out into these relatively remote campgrounds and insist on watching TV and making coffee in electric percolators. There are RV parks for this kind of thing so they aren’t being deprived. I’m appalled that BLM, USFS, NPS, and USFWS permit these people to interfere with Nature’s quiet.
The bigger issue, however, is the effect of human noise on ecosystems. The ecological impact of human noise in a forest or meadow has only been studied recently. Natural sound is one of the mechanisms by which connectivity in Nature is achieved. We need to respect that vitally import idea. We must be aware that our noise breaks important links within an ecosystem.
Natural soundscapes are the voices of entire ecological systems. Every living organism—from the tiniest to the largest—and every site on earth has its own acoustic signature. Human noises – deliberate or not deliberate, well meaning or malicious – interrupt or break vital communication links between creatures in Nature. These sonic links serve procreation, mating, warning, defense and other behaviors that are essential to wildlife for daily living and and for survival.
Quiet, according to soundscape ecologist Gordon Hempton is not the absence of sound, it is the “absence of noise”. Quiet, in this sense, is a vital natural resource. Species, other than human, depend on absence of human noise so that their vital communication links can function.
Writer Clive Thompson, reporting for Wired Magazine said that
“We worry about the carbon emissions from SUVs and airplanes, maybe we should be equally concerned about the racket they cause.”
The conservation of quiet is just as important as other forms of ecological conservation . For the most part, this important idea is not being promoted to the public by respected conservation organizations or by our government agencies whose job it is to conserve public lands and the creatures that live there. There is a general lack of sonic consciousness – a consciousness of the importance of quiet in Nature. Happily, however, there seems to be a growing sonic consciousness on the part of BLM with the offering of RV hookups. And, the US National Park Service now has an extensive series of web pages on the effects of human noise in Nature.
When we visit Nature, we need to go quietly and leave things as we find them. We need to enter Nature with reverence — leaving behind our noisy dogs, ATVs, cell phones, and RV generators. We need to avoid chatter with our friends – instead listening to Nature’s chorus as it speaks.
Worth Your Extra Attention
Here are some useful Internet links regarding noise pollution in our environment
- Nature’s Symphony – A Previous Post
- Human Racket Affects Plants, Too – From Live Science
- The Effects Of Noise On Wildlife – A scientific review
- Noise Pollution Threatens Earth’s Ecosystem
- This study show that noise pollution drives birds out of their homes
- From NBC News: noise has the potential to trigger cascading effects that could alter the structure of ecosystems
- Noise In Nature from Texas Magazine
- Human Noise Drives Wildlife Batty from the Corvalis Advocate
- Humans are too noisy for nature from the Aspen Times
- Manmade Noise Has Impact on Natural Habitat from ABC News
- Bernie Krause shares the happiest sounds he’s heard in nature in this TED.com blog
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My name is Bill Graham. As a Marine Biologist who has worked in the US and Mexico for 30 years, I am a student of Nature, a teacher, a researcher, and a nature photographer. Through my work, I have acquired an ever growing passion for how everything in Nature is connected. Today, I travel extensively contemplating about, writing about, and photographing Nature’s connections. I also work with conservation projects in the USA and Mexico and mentor talented youth.