By Ula Chrobak
The great outdoors is becoming a lot less peaceful. Noise pollution from humans has doubled sound levels in more than half of all protected areas in the United States—from local nature reserves to national parks—and it has made some places 10 times louder, according to a new study. And the cacophony isn’t just bad for animals using natural sounds to hunt and forage—it could also be detrimental to human health.
The study, which maps noise levels across the United States, is “a call to arms,” says Nathan Kleist, an ecologist at the University of Colorado in Boulder, who was not involved in the work. The noise maps could help scientists identify key areas to keep quiet, such as critical habitats for endangered species, he adds. “If you’re missing noise, you’re missing a huge driver of habitat suitability.”
Noise pollution—from honking cars to clanging construction equipment—can disturb sleep, cause stress, and impair concentration. In 1972, U.S. officials enacted the Noise Control Act, which gave the Enironmental Protection Agency the authority to impose limits on noise from motor vehicles and machinery. But regulators have largely ignored noise in parks, wilderness, and other protected areas, which cover 14% of the country. And 80% of the United States—including many parks and protected areas—is now within 1 kilometer of a road, thanks to rapidly growing residential and industrial areas.
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