The WildeBeat

The audio journal about getting into the wilderness.


The WildeBeat edition 89: Listening to Parks, part 1

This is a supplementary transcript of our audio program. CLICK HERE to listen to the original program, and see the associated show notes.

Do you get into the wilderness for the peace and quiet? How do you know it's going to be there? This week on The WildeBeat; part one of Listening to Parks.

[Intro Music & SFX; 0:07.6 and under]

News from the Wildebeat, the audio journal about getting into the wilderness.

This is program number eighty nine.

I'm Steve Sergeant.

[Intro Music: 0:04.5 ends. SFX: Campground background]

STEVE: Has this ever happened to you? A couple of weeks ago, I was in the remote White Wolf trailhead campground in Yosemite National Park. It started out as a quiet morning. I could hear some birds, the gurgle and rush of a nearby stream, and a few campers who were starting to stir quietly in the distance. But then --

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STEVE: This motor home just started up some kind of motor, maybe it's a generator, as I was just starting to prepare breakfast. Now sitting right at my picnic table I'm going to put the microphone a foot away from my pressurized gas cook stove, which normally is pretty loud by itself, and you can hear how loud it is compared to the motor home.

STEVE: OK. I turned the stove off, and from my campsite two hundred feet away I'm going to walk toward this motor home.

STEVE: Excuse me, would you be willing to talk to me just for a minute?


STEVE: The motor that started up there a little while ago -- you folks are camped closer to it than I am, how did the sound affect your morning here?

MARIA MUSTANEN: Well, of course it puts you in a whole different place. Because, of course, one of the reasons we come here -- we live in the city -- and to get back to how things were. How they are in some places. Hear the birds in the morning especially. But, you know, even though there's no wind now -- but the rustling. Yeah, it feels like your near a factory.

STEVE: Thank you. Can I get you to say your name and where you're from?

MARIA MUSTANEN: Maria Mustanen, and I live in San Jose now.

STEVE: Thank you, Maria.

STEVE: I don't imagine that anyone in a camp site any closer to this thing could carry on a conversation. And now that I'm about fifty feet away from it, I'm not sure that you can hear my voice on the tape.

[SFX: End motor home, begin campground background]

STEVE: After the generator stopped, and I'd finished my breakfast, I went to talk to the motor home owner. Bill Garcia is a friendly gentleman from Whittier, California.

BILL GARCIA: It was an auxiliary motor running a generator so we could generate a hundred and twenty volt electricity so we could run our coffee pot and toasters and such -- microwave... And I just came back from the entrance and it says that noise is not allowed until after six in the morning. So it was way after six.

STEVE: How do you think the rules should apply for noise generated by park visitors?

BILL GARCIA: Well, it's definitely an annoyance to have the noise in a setting such as this. And this is the reason that I only ran it long enough to make coffee. And I agree with you and with them and with anybody else. I love to hear the birds sing. I love to hear the wind through the trees. It beautiful. And it is annoying to have a generator running. But if you keep it to a minimum, I think it's permissible.

[SFX: End campground]

STEVE: So I think *my* strategy, if this ever happens again, will be to go up to the folks in the motor home and offer to make them coffee on my, relatively quiet, camp stove.

STEVE: Now, you kind of expect noise like this in the park campgrounds that you can drive to. And that's certainly a reason why some of us like to spend time away from roads, in the backcountry. But it turns out, you might not be able to find your peace and quiet *there*, either.

STEVE: I'm talking with Kurt Fristrup. He is a scientist with the Natural Sounds program at the national Park Service at Fort Collins, Colorado. Kurt, welcome to the WildeBeat.


STEVE: Kurt, what is the Natural Sounds program? What does the National Park Service have to do with natural sounds?

KURT FRISTRUP: The Natural Sounds Program works to protect, maintain, or restore acoustic resources and soundscape values in units of the national park system. We fulfill this mission by working in partnership with parks and others to increase scientific and public understanding of the value and character of park soundscapes, and to eliminate or minimize inappropriate sounds.

STEVE: OK. So basically you're measuring noises in the park, or you're studying what sounds are normal in the parks.

KURT FRISTRUP: We inventory the sounds that are intrinsic to the park. The sounds of wildlife, of water flowing, of wind flowing through vegetation, as well as trying to categorize the extrinsic sounds, or noise sources that are presently interfering with the enjoyment of the parks native soundscape. ...And we're concerned about noise, much as the Night Sky program is concerned about light pollution because these sources of sort of "civilized" pollution diminish the capacity of the park visitor to either view the stars and the full night sky -- in the case of light pollution -- or to experience the full dimension of the natural soundscape, in the case of noise.

STEVE: So Kurt, why should natural soundscapes matter to a typical park visitor?

KURT FRISTRUP: Most visitors, coming to the Grand Canyon, and experiencing a day when they can see sixty or seventy miles will remark on the magnificent view, not realizing that in the absence of air pollution they might be able to see two hundred miles. ...A visitor in a national park might be impressed by the sound of a redtail hawk a few hundred yards away, not realizing that if the park were in its native condition, or natural condition, they'd be able to hear that redtail hawk at a half mile away.

STEVE: So what are you doing to find out how the soundscapes are being degraded?

KURT FRISTRUP: We measure the sound levels in parks and can show that they are getting higher with time. And we also listen to and identify all the sounds in backcountry areas and parks, and we can show that noises from outside the park are increasingly obvious. Every year we put out ten to twenty sound monitoring devices in national parks, where we record for up to thirty days to get a relatively complete picture of both the intrinsic acoustic resources of the park, and the noises that are intruding into the park's soundscape.

KURT FRISTRUP: The next sound you hear was recorded very early morning at the Ivanpah recording site in Mojave National Preserve. It's a very active coyote chorus, calling in an otherwise silent night sky.

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KURT FRISTRUP: The Ivanpah recording site overlooks the future site of an new international airport for Las Vegas, Nevada.

STEVE: So are the soundscapes in the park actually threatened?

KURT FRISTRUP: Yes. You could say that noise is one of the most pervasive pollutants in our country today. I say that because we have a large volume of commercial air traffic in this country today, and those routes criss-cross relatively freely across in the airspace above the land. But also we have increasing need for ground transportation. We have new roadways being constructed all the time, and new bridges are proposed over wild and scenic rivers, and the volume on those roadways increases every year. So the amount of noise our society generates is increasing all the time. And especially in the case of aircraft noise, there are very few places in this continent where the sounds of aircraft passing overhead are not a prominent feature of the environment.

KURT FRISTRUP: Yosemite National Park experiences a large number of high-altitude jet over-flights. The next sound is a particularly loud example recorded from Hodgedon Meadow. Following the noise, the jet noise, you can hear the sound of a spotted owl, calling in an otherwise silent evening sky.

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[SFX: 7_14_2006_668_YOSE007_spottedowl2.wav; 0:10.0]

STEVE: The National Park Service established the Natural Sounds Program in two thousand. Their mission is to provide park management with the scientific evidence they need to maintain natural soundscapes in the parks. So what have they found? How can you help their effort, and collect sounds for yourself? We'll explore those questions in part two of Listening to Parks.

STEVE: This edition was produced with funds provided by listeners like you.

[Closing Music: 0:10 and under]

Next time -- part two of Listening to Parks.

Our official website is WWW dot WILDEBEAT (that's W-I-L-D-E-B-E-A-T) dot NET. We need your help to make future shows possible; please click on our support link and become a member. The WildeBeat is produced by Steve Sergeant, with help from Jean Higham, as a nonprofit educational project of Earth Island Institute.

This has been The WildeBeat, program number eighty nine. Thank you for listening.

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