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Seeing with your ears in Red Cliff

Daily Staff ReportVail CO, Colorado
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Name that sound. For us, it’s a parlor game. For animals, however, it may be the difference between finding lunch, being lunch or finding a date. Every tweet, roar, chirp, bugle, thump, howl and ribbit may signify a wanted mate, an unwanted danger, or a territorial claim. What does the sudden silence of frogs or insects in an otherwise raucous symphony of chirps and croaks mean? What is the woodpecker listening for as he taps his tree?In this day and age, we pay relatively little attention to our keen sense of hearing. On Tuesday, the Vail Symposium and Gore Range Natural Science School will host an acoustic snowshoe tour and talk with Frank Turina, a natural resource planner for the National Park Service’s Natural Sounds Program. Participants will tune into the sound sources that comprise the Vail Valley soundscape, and consider its impact on the animals that live here.

Using programmed Palm Pilots, hikers will log the different sounds that surround them as they walk in Red Cliff. After the snowshoe, the group will gather at Mango’s to learn about acoustic ecology and bioacoustic issues, play a challenging game of “name that nature sound,” compile and summarize the day’s findings, and enjoy some snacks. “Sometimes people don’t realize the sources of sound that affect the environment around us,” Turina said. “That sound not only impacts the human experience outdoors, but it also impacts the natural resources of the area, namely the wildlife.”These sounds are the heartbeat and breath of the wilderness. In many habitats, wildlife vocalizations and vibrations are what allow creatures and critters to live, thrive, and reproduce. If they can’t hear, they can’t survive.

What is soundscape

An area’s “soundscape” refers to its total acoustic environment. This includes sounds made by animals, insects and birds, as well as from wind, water and humans. Soundscapes naturally vary with time of day and season, but can also be easily affected (or destroyed) by the introduction of human-caused sound. Thus it is crucial to consider, monitor, and manage the sounds present in an environment. It is for this reason that the National Park Service Natural Sounds Program was developed in 2000.A large part of Turina’s work is to develop comprehensive approaches to managing parks’ soundscapes. This includes characterizing parks’ acoustic environments, and preventing and managing noise intrusions in order to protect them. Turina works with park officials to determine thresholds for various zoned areas within the park. He then monitors and records sound within these areas in order to determine sound levels for the whole park. If the levels exceed the thresholds necessary to maintain the desired soundscape, Turina will then work with officials to develop a plan to manage noise levels. Such plans may include reducing the means by which visitors can access the park (such as restricting motorized vehicles), requiring park maintenance employees to use different equipment (such as rakes instead of leave-blowers), or enforcing “quiet hours” in campgrounds.

Dealing with noiseTurina also works with parks experiencing noise issues. “There are 82 parks that routinely run air tours,” Turina said. Thus Air Tour Management Planning is required to determine where and how frequently these tours may operate. In Glacier National Park, avalanche bombing is the question. The Natural Sounds Program recently studied the impact such slide mitigation might have on both wildlife and visitors in the park. Other noise issues might include development taking place outside a park, or the 119,000 motorcycles that rumble through Mt. Rushmore National Park each year during the Sturgis bike rally.This program is offered by Gore Range Natural Science School. Gore Range Natural Science School operates under special permit from the White River National Forest and is an equal opportunity service provider.


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