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Soundscape Policy

Protection and management of park acoustical environments and soundscapes are guided by several important laws and regulations. These laws and regulations form the foundation of the Natural Sounds Program.


NPS Organic Act of 1916 (16 USC 1)
This act establishes and authorizes the National Park Service "to conserve the scenery and the national and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."

Wilderness Act of 1964
Soundscapes are essential components of wilderness character, enabling visitors to experience solitude and “the earth and its community of life... untrammeled by man.”

Redwoods Act of 1978
This act affirms and clarifies the NPS mission and authority. It states: "The authorization of activities shall be construed, and the protection, management and administration of these areas shall be conducted in light of the high public value and integrity of the National Park system and shall not be exercised in derogation of the values and purposes for which these various areas have been established."

Handbook to Director's Order #12: Conservation Planning, Environmental Impact Analysis, and Decision-making (Preliminary Draft)

NPS Management Policies 2006
NPS Management Policies are an indispensable tool to help NPS employees manage parks responsibly and make rational, well-informed decisions.

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Air Tour Management Plans

National Parks Air Tour Management Act of 2000
This act requires the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), in cooperation with NPS, to develop an Air Tour Management Plan (ATMP) for each unit of the National Park System (that currently has commercial air tours) to provide acceptable and effective measures to mitigate or prevent the significant adverse impacts, if any, of commercial air tour operations upon natural and cultural resources and visitor experiences.

Final Rule: 14 CFR Part 136 - Regulations implementing the National Parks Air Management

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Soundscape Management

NPS Soundscape Management Policy 4.9
This section of the 2006 Management Policies states, "Using appropriate management planning, superintendents will identify what levels of human-caused sound can be accepted within the management purposes of parks... In and adjacent to parks, the Service will monitor human activities that generate noise that adversely affects park soundscapes, including noise caused by mechanical or electronic devices. The Service will take action to prevent or minimize all noise that, through frequency, magnitude, or duration, adversely affects the natural soundscape or other park resources or values, or that exceeds levels that have been identified as being acceptable to, or appropriate for, visitor uses at the sites being monitored."

NPS Cultural Soundscape Management Policy
This section of the 2006 Management Policies states that, "The Service will preserve soundscape resources and values of the parks to the greatest extent possible to protect opportunities for appropriate transmission of cultural and historic sounds that are fundamental components of the purposes and values for which the parks were established."

NPS Director's Order #47: Soundscape Preservation and Noise Management
It directs park managers to (1) measure baseline acoustic conditions, (2) determine which existing or proposed human-made sounds are consistent with park purposes, (3) set acoustic management goals and objectives based on those purposes, and (4) determine which noise sources are impacting the park and need to be addressed by management.

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National Parks Overflight Act of 1987 (P.L. 100-91)
In 1987, Congress enacted Public Law 100-91, commonly known as the National Parks Overflights Act. The Act mandated a number of studies related to the effects of overflights on parks and directed the National Park Service to report to Congress its results. In July, 1995, NPS published Report to Congress on Effects of Aircraft Overflights on the National Park System.

NPS Overflights and Aviation Uses Policy 8.4
This section of the 2006 Management Policies discusses Alaska and Remote Areas, Education, General Aviation, Administrative Use, Military Aviation, Commercial Air Tour Management, Permitted Overflights, and Airports and Landing Sites.

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Visitor Use

NPS Visitor Use Policy 8.2
This section of the 2006 Management Policies discusses Visitor Carrying Capacity, Recreational Activities, Use of Motorized Equipment, Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities, Visitor Safety and Emergency Response, Recreation Fees and Reservations, and Tourism.

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Motorized Equipment

36 CFR Section 2.12 Audio Disturbance
Under this section the following is prohibited: Operating motorized equipment or machinery that exceeds a noise level of 60 decibels measured on the A-weighted scale at 50 feet or, if below that level, nevertheless, makes noise that is unreasonable.

36 CFR Section 2.18 Snowmobiles
Under this section the following is prohibited: Operating a snowmobile that makes excessive noise. Excessive noise for snowmobiles manufactured after July 1, 1975 is a level of total snowmobile noise that exceeds 78 decibels measured on the A-weighted scale at 50 feet.

36 CFR Section 3.15 Maximum Noise Level for Operation of Boats
A person may not operate a moving vessel at a noise level exceeding 75dB(A) measured using the test procedures in this section.

NPS Use of Motorized Equipment Policy 8.2.3
This section of the 2006 Management Policies discusses Motorized off-road vehicle use, Snowmobiles, and Personal Watercraft Use.

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