Listening to Silence: Why We Must Protect the World’s Quiet Places

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“It is a frosty March morning in the Hoh Rainforest, deep within Olympic National Park in Washington state. The forest is full of Jurassic ferns, hanging moss, and towering spruce and cedars, but what I hope to find is an absence. I seek a spot known as the “One Square Inch of Silence” — one of the quietest places in the contiguous United States, free from chattering people, humming power lines, and the whoosh of cars.

In Hawaii, the largest threat to quiet is helicopters. More commercial air tours fly over Hawaii Volcanoes National Park than any other protected area in the U.S., with reported flights totaling 8,333 in 2018; Haleakalā National Park ranks fourth, with 4,757 reported flights. But citizens are pushing back. In 2017, HICoP (Hawaii Island Coalition Malama Pono) — a Hawaiian advocacy nonprofit formed to restore “serenity free from tour copter noise pollution” — and a group of federal workers anonymously represented by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility sued the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to limit air tours over seven protected areas, including Hawaii Volcanoes and Haleakalā. Protecting quiet in wilderness spaces “is why national parks exist,” HICoP founding board member Bob Ernst says.”

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