RV Generator Noise Breaks Connections In Nature


I spend each summer living in my camper while writing books and doing Nature photography. My primary locationsToys-0817 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.

TripPix-5951To 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 Toys-0127important 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

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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.

12 Responses to “RV Generator Noise Breaks Connections In Nature”

  1. Sylvia says:

    perhaps ignorance is a major factor? I spent two wonderful days/nights at a retreat center in Eastern WV – about seven miles back in the woods. I loved it. There were buildings, but I was not with a group and had the silence to myself.

    Of course, in that part of the country it is very difficult to avoid some noise pollution…..too close to Baltimore.

    • Hi Sylvia:

      Thanks for responding. In writing this post, I decided not to tell all my stories about RV generators. More than once, I have been politely asked if I minded if the person ran a generator. I’ve always been honest and stated that I did mind. They ran the generator anyhow. So, in these cases I would not attribute their action to ignorance.

      But, I do agree with you that ignorance may be a big factor. As I implied in the post, even the folks who oversee our public lands do not appreciate the impact of noise pollution. Soundscape ecology is a relatively new field.

      In my mind, the question is: If humanity did have the knowledge that they might cause ecological damage, would they change? I wish the answer were “yes” but I’m afraid much of humanity doesn’t feel that close enough to Nature to really care. Instead, they’ll do what gives them pleasure.

      • gwenie says:

        It’s not just campgrounds where noise and inappropriate activities occur. Last Friday I walked with an already irritating man I did not know around our very small town where wildflowers are still prolific even this late in the year. While talking incessantly, he proceeded to pick wild flowers and even de-root them. I asked him right after he started to quit; he ignored me and kept walking, talking and picking. It was most curious that his self absorption was so excessive he couldn’t quit his automatic activity.

        I think automatic activity is part of the problem. The other is not liking things to be quiet. I have to assume people stay in places like NYC or keep their TVs on 24 hours a day because they like incessant noise.

        Thank you for a wonderful blog, Bill.

        Nemaste, gwenie

  2. Bill,
    Noise pollution is not restricted to RVers (ATVs anyone?) and neither is entitlement, it seems to be a chronic disease! Maybe if other campers would be willing to get involved and politely inform the outlier that they need to be quiet they would get the message. Too often we wait for someone else to do the ‘dirty’ work.

    You didn’t mention tire tracks were they are not supposed to be and the ‘joy’ that some folks get from mudding which is VERY hard on the environment. After it rained here there quite a few folks in their trucks sliding in the wet and now empty river beds.

    All of these are symptoms of how human and self centric our culture has become. At the root is a lack of respect. No one and nothing is respected except our own desires. No wonder happiness is so hard to find.

    • Hi Kathryn: I am very grateful to hear from an RVer on this subject. I totally agree with everything you have said !!! I am one of those people who does politely inform the outlier. Sadly, it rarely works – whether it be an RV generator, an ATV, or a noisy dog on a nature trail. That is why I made the comment about entitlement.

  3. Daphne says:

    Thanks, Bill, for another article that speaks so eloquently. Our souls naturally yearn for peace and quiet.

    • Hi Daphne: Like yourself, my soul does yearn for solitude when I am engaging Nature. But, to me, what is more important is avoiding the disruption of the soundscape that is so critical to the functioning of the ecosystem in which I might be immersed at the time. I am in someone else’s home and I need to respect that.

  4. Thanks for the great post. Your stories remind me of my experiences seeking a peaceful moment only to be interrupted by sand dune buggies (along parts of the Oregon Coast), snow-mobiles (when I’m cross-country skiing on a shared trail), or dirt bikes in the summer. I’m so torn because I want to enjoy the wilderness without the noise pollution from motorized vehicles, but I also want as many people advocating for our natural spaces, we need everyone on board, not just us quiet hikers and I’m afraid those folks don’t want to give up their big toys.

    • Hi Heather: Thanks for replying. Your comment about wanting people to use our natural resources resonates strongly with me. Unfortunately, the toys get in the way rather than facilitate a bond with Nature. It saddens me greatly when I see parents putting their kids on the back of ATVs and roar off on the trails without any thought of engaging Nature.

  5. Bill,

    The vast majority of people in this country are assaulted with noise all day and most of the evening. To deal with it, most shut down their hearing or mask it with music. I think most people have forgotten what quiet sounds like (any many are, frankly, disturbed by it). Scientific studies have shown that such constant exposure to noise has serious health effects, including high blood pressure, heart disease, etc., and most likely contributes to violence. I’m not sure how excited you are going to get people about the effects of noise on wildlife when they don’t recognize it’s impacts on their own lives. But I otherwise agree that recognizing how much noise we make is important in understanding our overall impact on the other denizens of this planet.
    I also think many of the RV’ers are not really campers, just people with the capability of moving their city existences around.
    Many, if not most, animals communicate in frequencies above the range of our “noise.” This doesn’t mean they aren’t impacted by our sounds, but perhaps not as much as you might think. But human-generated noise certainly affects the ability of many animals to detect predators, resulting in habitat shifts for many. Thanks for the good article.
    Chris, http://www.wildmountainechoes.com

    • Hi Chris:

      It is good to hear from you again. Your expert knowledge is greatly appreciated.

      For me, I usually “duck and hide”. I am passionate about engaging Nature and I find that most of Nature will come to me only if I sit still and be quiet. So, I avoid human noise by camping away from humanity. So, you might say that I choose to exercise “predator avoidance” tactics.

  6. @William Graham
    Bill,

    Me, too! It’s getting harder and harder to find quiet spots, though, especially with all of the airplane noise. The National Park Service is focusing more and more on trying to give visitors a quiet experience, that’s a start in getting people to realize the importance of sound. And quiet.
    Chris

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