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Managing Soundscapes

Staff talking with visitors
Natural Sounds Program staff talking with visitors about soundscape management. NPS Photo.

Protection of acoustical environments has received growing attention from managers and policy makers as a result of an increased understanding of its role in overall ecosystem health and visitor enjoyment. In 1972, the Noise Control Act required the federal government to establish and enforce noise controls in work and other places, including national parks. Subsequent legislation to limit air tours and enforce minimum flight altitudes (to limit noise) was enacted for national parks such as Grand Canyon and Hawai'i Volcanoes. Legislation from the 108th Congress also limited snowmobile use at Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, which has led to improved technology designed to reduce noise caused by snowmobiles, aircraft, and other forms of mechanized travel in national parks and related areas (Sheikh & Uhl, 2004).

Though the topic of noise was first addressed in the 1978 edition of NPS Management Policies (and later updated in 1988), the 2001 policies revision devoted an entire section to the protection of the acoustical environment as a resource (National Park Service [NPS] 2001, section 4.9). Chapter 8 on "Visitor Use" also describes the importance of the acoustical environment to visitor enjoyment and states that recreation, including motorized recreation, cannot intrude on the opportunity to hear the sounds of nature in units of the National Park System or interfere with interpretive talks. In 2000, Director's Order 47 specified how parks should monitor and plan to protect park acoustical environments. The current version of NPS Management Policies (NPS 2006, section added yet another section establishing the concept of "cultural soundscapes" for NPS protection. For more policies related to park acoustical environments and soundscape, please visit our Soundscape Policy page.

Soundscape management is becoming more complex and challenging as threats to acoustic resources, both internal and external to park boundaries, increase. Planning is an essential step in addressing these threats. The Natural Sounds Program assists parks with incorporating the protection of park acoustical environments into all forms of park management plans, whether they are long-range plans (e.g., General Management Plans), shorter-term implementation plans (e.g., Wilderness Management Plans, Soundscape Management Plans) or noise-source specific plans (e.g., Air Tour Management Plans, Off-Road Vehicle Plans,Transportation Plans).


Sheikh, P., & Uhl, C. (2004). Airplane noise: A pervasive disturbance in Pennsylvania Parks, USA. Journal of Sound and Vibration, 274(1-2), 411-420.

Last Updated: April 16, 2012