How Noise Pollution Impacts Nature

Overly loud noise isn’t just a public health risk for humans.

1 minute read

July 11, 2023, 10:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Young bull moose stands in grassy field in Bridger-Teton National Forest

Young bull moose in Bridger-Teton National Forest, Wyoming. | Tim Malek / Adobe Stock

A new study being conducted in the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming is finding that “the mere presence of human sound, no matter how loud or quiet, fast or slow, changes how animals behave.” Christine Peterson describes the new research in High Country News.

“For some species, hikers and bikers may be little more than a sideshow in a forest full of natural disturbances. For others, recreationists could have an impact similar to that of terrifying predators, invading habitat where food can be found, resulting in lower birthrates and even increasing deaths.”

While “non-consumptive recreation” such as hiking may seem harmless, “recent studies show otherwise. There’s one out of Vail, Colorado, showing that increased trail use by hikers and mountain bikers disturbed elk so much the cows birthed fewer calves. Another out of Grand Teton National Park showed that backcountry skiers scared bighorn sheep during winter when food was scarce, with potentially lethal consequences.”

The study is designed to assess what types of noises cause the biggest reactions in animals. “Judging by an initial analysis of last summer’s data, large groups of mountain bikers were the most likely to cause animals like mule deer and elk to flee.” 

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