Modeling Anthropogenic Noise Impacts on Animals in Natural Areas

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Noise is a globally pervasive pollutant that can be detrimental to a range of animal species, with cascading effects on ecosystem functioning. As a result, concern about the impacts and expanding footprint of anthropogenic noise is increasing along with interest in approaches for how to mitigate its negative effects. A variety of modeling tools have been developed to quantify the spatial distribution and intensity of noise across landscapes, but these tools are under-utilized in landscape planning and noise mitigation. Here, we apply the Sound Mapping Tools toolbox to evaluate mitigation approaches to reduce the anthropogenic noise footprint of gas development, summer all-terrain vehicle recreation, and winter snowmobile use. Sound Mapping Tools uses models of the physics of noise propagation to convert measured source levels to landscape predictions of relevant sound levels. We found that relatively minor changes to the location of noise-producing activities could dramatically reduce the extent and intensity of noise in focal areas, indicating that site planning can be a cost-effective approach to noise mitigation. In addition, our snowmobile results, which focus on a specific frequency band important to the focal species, are consistent with previous research demonstrating that source noise level reductions are an effective means to reduce noise footprints. We recommend the use of quantitative, spatially-explicit maps of expected noise levels that include alternative options for noise source placement. These maps can be used to guide management decisions, allow for species-specific insights, and to reduce noise impacts on animals and ecosystems.