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QUIET SKIES COALITION     PO Box 956     Wainscott, NY   11975      

            T. James Matthews, Ph.D.

    Aircraft Noise and Wildlife Wellbeing

    There is a literature which consists of well over 100 studies of the effects of airport
    noise on wildlife, domestic animals, and humans. Much of this literature was
    reviewed in two papers (A review of the Effects of Aircraft Noise on Wildlife and
    Humans, Current Control Mechanisms and the Need for Further Study, (2003)
    Pepper, C.B., Mascarella, M. A., and Kendall, R. J., Environmental Management,
    Vol. 32, No. 4; Impacts of Noise and Overflights on Wildlife, (2005) Turina,
    F. National Park Service Annotated Bibliography).  In general, it is clear that
    many species are affected by aircraft noise and a few less so. Several ungulates
    like mountain goats show signs of sustained disturbance, Brants and other geese
    are significantly disrupted in breeding and staging before migration, and predators
    like Bald eagles are driven off their nests. Even mice show agitated disturbance.  
    Some species, like ducks seem to show “habituation” to aircraft overpass, but
    this is a temporary and unstable accommodation. On the other hand, some
    species such as domesticated animals like chickens and cows seem unaffected.
    Large wading birds like egrets also seem insensitive and some evidence s
    uggests that Osprey are not strongly affected. The severity of effects increases
    with the both the intensity of the noise the frequency of disturbance. In every instance
    where helicopters were compared to fixed wing aircraft, helicopters were more
    disruptive.

    Helicopters are a particular concern for wildlife as they fly lower, slower, and are
    louder for longer over any given ground site. The routes currently available to
    helicopters traveling to and from East Hampton Airport were selected to minimize
    overflight of areas of concentrated human habitation and instead were directed
    over our most isolated and sensitive nature preserves. The southern route
    traverses Georgica Pond, which absorbs 20% of all helicopter traffic. It is just
    two miles from the airport and is therefore subject to very low altitude flights as
    the helicopters descend to the airport. Inbound traffic flies over Northwest Creek
    which is the second largest nature preserve in East Hampton and is just 3 miles f
    rom the airport. It absorbs about 40% of helicopter traffic which is also descending
    to the airport. Outbound traffic is directed over nature preserves at the Long Pond
    Greenbelt area, Clam Island, Morton Game Refuge, and Jessups Neck, all of
    which lie along the route that absorbs 40% of helicopter traffic. These areas are
    home to a considerable variety of wildlife, some migratory and some that breed
    here in the summer. Of particular concern are summer breeding birds listed by
    NY State as “Endangered”, “Threatened”, or “Special Concern”. These include
    Piping Plovers, Least Terns, Roseate Terns, Osprey, Whip-poor-wills, Black
    Skimmers, and Loons, among others.  Although there are few studies on the
    effects of airport noise on these species in particular, the larger literature makes
    their vulnerability clear. In the case of Piping Plovers, which are listed as
    “endangered” by both the State and Federal governments, their vulnerability
    arises because they are ground nesters and are highly vulnerable to aerial
    predation. Accordingly, they would be particularly sensitive to noise intrusions
    from above during the breeding season. In Northwest Creek, for instance,
    Suffolk County Parks Department of Ecology records show that in the last several
    years as helicopter flights have increased, the number of Plover nests has
    decreased from 5 or 6 to 1 in each of the last two years. Recent average fledge
    counts per nest have also fallen from 2.5 to .5. Importantly, it appears that the
    plovers have not disappeared but have relocated to sites more remote from
    helicopter noise.

    An additional literature addresses the effects of airport on humans. (Hypertension
    and Exposure to Noise near Airports, (2008), Environmental Health Perspectives,
    Vol 116, No 3. There are clear indications that elevated blood pressure in adults
    results from chronic exposure to aircraft noise. Other studies have shown that
    children living under airport noise have reduced abilities in concentration,
    problem solving, and language perception. Finally, noise can cause increases
    in fetal heart rate and movement.

    Overall, the evidence tilts strongly in favor of the generalization that aircraft
    noise, helicopter noise in particular, is highly disruptive to wildlife and humans.
    Although a comparison of the effects on humans and wildlife is strained by the fact that
    studies tend to use different measures of disturbance, it does appear that the
    effects of noise on wildlife are more profound. While humans studies rest on
    physiological or subtle behavioral changes, the effects on animals include
    disruption of feeding, predation, nesting, reproduction, and migration.  The
    very notion of a Nature Preserve assumes that wildlife require an environment
    protected from human intrusion and there is no question that noise pollution is
    a very significant human intrusion. Aircraft noise pollution should be restricted
    in the same way that jet-skis, toxic run-off, sewage drainage, vehicular traffic
    and other disturbances are restricted.


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ISSUES/LEARN
I would feel more optimistic
about a bright future for
man if he spent less time
proving that he can outwit
Nature and more time
tasting her sweetness and
respecting her seniority.


E.B. White, Letters of
E. B. White