The Navy’s EA-18G Growler jets based at Whidbey Island are some of the loudest military aircraft in the skies. The Navy’s proposed plan to increase training flights over Olympic National Park is out of convenience, not necessity, and should be stopped.
America’s rare quiet places should remain quiet. Navy Growler jet training flights should not be increased over Olympic National Park, or one of the world’s most diverse soundscapes will be compromised.
What is a soundscape, you ask? Go for a hike. Step carefully. Don’t talk. For goodness sake, leave your Bluetooth speaker at home. Just listen.
As an Olympic javelin thrower, I travel the world each summer to compete. I spend lots of time in big, foreign cities, bombarded by human noise. I love what I do, and I love that this career has vastly expanded my horizons, but I look forward each fall to returning home and quietly wandering around in our country’s greatest treasure: our National Parks.
After constant travel, internal and external pressure on my performances, and being away from my family for months at a time, hearing elk bugle from a cozy sleeping bag eases my soul. Barely seeing my husband’s face in the eerie tent half-light fills up my heart. It feels like each of us has ears the size of our yellow Lab, Maddie, who is flopped between us, also listening.
My husband and I got engaged in Olympic National Park. We’d never seen black bears from a trail before, and we heard our first one munching berries and snapping twigs before we spotted him a few switchbacks above us. As we sat in the alpine meadow just off the High Divide Trail where Russ asked me to be his wife, a few species of the 300-plus birds in the park cheered on our love. The contrasting roars and trickles of rivers and creeks we crossed on moss-covered bridges on the way out ignited our footsteps and spurred us on to sharing the exciting news with our families.
Growler jets (EA-18G Navy electronic warfare aircraft based at Whidbey Island) are some of the loudest military aircraft in the skies. The Navy’s proposed plan to increase training flights over Olympic National Park is out of convenience, not necessity. There are multiple existing training grounds within range of Whidbey Island, and those established places should continue to be employed in combat-readiness exercises rather than compromise the astounding diversity and wonder of this park’s soundscape.
The Navy is currently developing an environmental statement for the Northwest Testing and Training Range to assess impacts of more Growlers and any changes in operations over the west side of the Olympics as part of a permit renewal, scheduled for release in early 2019.
Acoustic ecologists such as Gordon Hempton have demonstrated the negative impact that jet-engine noise has on natural soundscapes. We all know that communication is key in any relationship, including the ones between the diverse species that call Olympic National Park home. Changing this soundscape means changing species’ behavior, and perhaps everything that we have seen for generations in this priceless place.
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Among a handful of endemic species to Olympic National Park is the Olympic marmot. Russ and I sought them out on a Hurricane Ridge hike the day after our engagement. Not only are these calico-colored, plump, furry rodents adorable, but their distinct warning scream is one of the most intriguing sounds I’ve ever heard. It echoes across hills of wildflowers as they call to each other, alerting the masses to the presence of danger. Imagine if the message didn’t send due to human interference.
Olympic National Park’s incredible diversity of landscapes lends itself directly to its priceless soundscape. From icy, glacial peaks to rain forests, on down to rocky shores, this park is home to wildlife found nowhere else in the world. Its mixture of species specific and wonderful to its many habitats create a biophony that should not be disturbed. Growler jets do not belong. The only jet engine-like sounds in this park should be waves crashing onto the untouched shores of its coastal wilderness.