Acoustic Ecology
Home News/IssuesCommunityResourcesSoundscapesAbout UsJoin Us
Current NewsOcean IssuesWildlands IssuesUrban IssuesArchives
Wildlands Issues

Valuing the Soundscape:
A new aspect of public lands managment

The US National Park Service has begun a system-wide process to survey and manage the soundscapes of their lands as one of the resources they are obligated to protect. Beginning in the early 2000's, the NPS contracted with outside specialists to develop systems for soundscape analysis and monitoring, and since then it has gradually expanded its efforts to do baseline soundscape recording and monitoring in many National Park units.

It's a step toward considering natural sounds and solitude a resource itself, like air or water
Wendy O'Sullivan, planner, Biscayne National Park

All of a sudden, places that look the same as 100 to 200 years ago don't sound like they did
Wes Henry, National Park Service

Two of the early consultants were Bernie Krause of Wild Sanctuary and Stuart Gage of the Michigan State Univerisity's Computational Ecology and Visualization Laboratory. Krause began by spending a week at a time in Sequoia-King's Canyon National Park, making day and night recordings of the full community of sound in several different locations in each season. Once back home, Krause and his colleagues at Michigan State analyze the tapes in an effort to establish sonic benchmarks, a sort of voiceprint of the habitat. Over time, the goals include developing un-manned recording systems that can monitor the soundscape in more detail, and using the recordings as a reliable method of monitoring and measuing ecosystem health.

In addition to the scientific goals of this project, the Park Service is also moving to create interpretive guides for visitors that highlight sound. A manual for park personnel, which includes material from several longtime natural sound recordists and bioacoustics researchers, is already in circulation at the parks, and training sessions are planned with park interpretive specialists in the coming years.

Meanwhile, consideration of the effects of noise and sound is becoming a routine part of most managment planning in agencies ranging from the BLM to NOAA and the National Forest Service. While noise analysis is often not particularly sophisticated or detailed, the inclusion of such considerations is a step in the right direction; as citizens and organizations submit comments with more detailed suggestions regarding sound, management plans will mature in this regard.

In Europe, the Campaign to Protect Rural England has drawn on extensive surveys and sound monitoring data to inform their campaign to protect "tranquility." Utilizing somewhat different metrics than the NPS soundscape program, this comprehensive approach is also very exciting.

National Park Service Soundscape Program
The National Park Service is several years now into a commitment to documenting and preserving the unique sound resources of each Park. Many parks have done initial baseline monitoring of backcountry and "front-country" sound, measuring the relative presence of natural and human-made sounds. The NPS is working with the FAA to develop air tour managment plans for parks with active air tour activity. An innovative Palm Pilot-based soundscape monitoring program allows staff to log the soundscape content of parks with relative ease; at Muir Woods in California, a group of citizen volunteers has been involved in an experimental monitoring program using the units. The Soundscape Office website has recently been revamped to reflect much of the work that has blosssomed since the creation of the Program in 2000.
NPS Directors Order - Establishes the NPS Soundscape Program office and details the importance of managing the soundscape as a valuable resource. [READ SOUNDSCAPE ORDER]
Report from first Director of Soundscape Office - [READ REPORT(pdf)]

New! (June 09): Yosemite National Park reports on 2 summers of soundscape studies. This page at the Yosemite website includes graphic and narrative overviews of recent soundscape studies, as well as a link to a 32-minute podcast. [WEBSITE]

Campaign to Protect Rural England Tranquility Program
The CPRE Tranquility program has pulled together an impressive array of data and public input into a series of "tranquility maps" and publications aimed at promoting the value of tranquility and the need to protect it before it's over run. They cite surveys that suggest that "tranquility" is valued by more people than scenery or open space; they've created a model for their tranquility maps that carefully weights and factors in both the positive features of tranquility that people seek, and the negative factors that impinge on tranquility (the relative number of other people is more important than the proximity of roads, for instance). Among the factors being tracked are the maximum noise in a particular area, and the time-weighted noise (averaged over the course of the day). The work being done by these folks deserves extended study by anyone working with public responses to noise. [WEBSITE] [BROCHURE] [MAPPING TRANQUILITY REPORT(60p. PDF)] [SAVING TRANQUIL PLACES (12p PDF)]

One Square Inch of Silence - On Earth Day 2005, recordist and soundscape champion Gordon Hempton initiated a private research project, designating one of the quietest corners of the US's most quiet National Park as the first "One Square Inch of Silence." By protecting one tiny spot from any human noise, a much larger area will share the benefit. The spot was chosen due to the lack of human noise, and will be monitored, with the intention of encouraging voluntary cessation of any new human noise intrusions. [WEBSITE]

Glacier Bay Acoustic Monitoring Program - Glacier Bay National Park is home to a dazzling array of wildlife, including humpback whales, which attracts cruise ships and private boaters. The Park has instituted a 500m buffer from all animals, and is engaged in long-term acoustic monitoring, aimed at creating "noise goals" for the future. [WEBSITE] [RESEARCH REPORTS FROM GLACIER BAY] [SOUNDS RECORDED IN GLACIER BAY]

Biscayne National Park Soundscape Study - The first national park to initiate an in-depth study of its soundscape resources, begun in the year 2000. The park posted two web pages of interest:
The park's overview of the issues to be addressed [WEBSITE] and
A newsletter about programs to study their soundscapes

ENN Article on Park Service program [WEBSITE]

Symposium on Preservation of Natural Quiet - A special session of the 1999 conference of the Acoustical Society of America brought together representatives of the National Park Service, private consulting companies, natural sound recordists, and others. Abstracts and Acrobat files of the papers given there (still a valuable introduction to issues in the field) are available on a web site run by the Federal Interagency Committee on Aviation Noise. [WEBSITE]

HMMH National Park Soundscape page: a Framework for Soundscape Analysis - Since 1990, the consulting firm Harris, Miller, Miller, and Hansom has done research for the NPS on sound issues. Beginning with studies of airplane overflight noise, they have expanded their scope to include full soundscape studies. An overview page on their web site includes several useful graphs, including a model for charting a variety of sonic impacts on a minute-by-minute basis. [WEBSITE]
HMMH is sponsoring the First International Symposium on Soundscape Management, slated for spring 2003. [MORE INFO]

2007 USGS report: Environmental Effects of Off-Highway Vehicles on Bureau of Land Management Lands: A Literature Synthesis, Annotated Bibliographies, Extensive Bibliographies, and Internet Resources. [DOWNLOAD REPORT]

The Wilderness Society Sound Propagation GIS toolkit - The Wilderness Society has created a very useful tool for anyone addressing noise on public lands: a GIS version of the System for the Prediction of Acoustic Detectability (SPreAD), a noise model issued by the Forest Service and EPA for land managers to "evaluate potential...acoustic impacts when planning the multiple uses of an area." The SPreAD model combines the full range of factors affecting sound propagation across landscapes (spherical spreading, atmospheric absorption, foliage and ground cover, down/upwind effects, topographic barriers and channels) in order to predict how far from a road a vehicle is likely to be heard. [SEE SPreAD USERS GUIDE] [SEE TWS DOC SUPPORTING SOUNDSCAPE ANALYSIS IN BLM PLANNING]

©, 2001 | Privacy Policy | Site Map