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Searching for Silence in the Parks


    Last week I posted about the National Park Service's determination to inventory the wide range of man-made sounds being inflicted upon the national parks and their visitors. And it truly is a wide range, from snowmobiles in winter in Yellowstone and personal watercraft in summer at national seashores such as Cape Lookout to even the beeping of a rig backing up and tourists chattering like squirrels on their cell phones.
    Well, there's at least one individual who is approaching the problem from the other direction. Gordon Hempton, you see, wants to find those special places in the parks where the only sounds are those of nature. And it seems he's found one such place in Olympic National Park.
    "Quiet is going extinct," Hempton told The Associated Press's Rachel La Corte. "I wanted to find a quiet place and hang on to it and protect it."
    The place he found is in the park's Hoh Rain Forest, a dense temperate rainforest tangled with ferns and mosses and immense trees and clear-running streams. From where he sat, Hempton could hear the glacial silt-filled Hoh River as it ran towards the coast, chattering squirrels, and singing birds. What he didn't hear were airliners high overhead or noisy campgrounds.
    As interesting as this story is, it's also a bit dismaying. For while Hempton believes Olympic officials, currently working on updates to their general management plan, should take bigger steps to protect the sounds of nature in the park, park Superintendent Bill Laitner doesn't think his park can afford to do so.
    Hempton believes the park should petition the Federal Aviation Administration to have the park added to the list of no-flight zones and also hire an acoustic ecologist to inventory the park's soundscape, both natural and man-made.
    Laitner, though, told the AP that with 30 unfilled positions already on his staff, moving a new position such as acoustic ecologist up towards the top won't happen due to funding woes. You can read the entire story here.
    And then you can wonder why the Park Service is inventorying man-made sounds if it places such a low priority, as suggested by Laitner's comments, on preserving the sounds of nature.

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