Can You Hear Me?

How much noise is enough to bother Greater Sage-grouse?

Microphones were set up around leks at ear level for sage-grouse to see how noise affects the birds.

Imagine crawling through acres of Wyoming sagebrush to hide microphones where they won’t disturb wildlife. Oh yeah, the mics have to be at the ear level of the average Greater Sage-grouse and you need to measure how far they are from the nearest road or energy development. That’s what a group of scientists did in order to answer a simple question: Does noise bother Sage-grouse and, if so, how much does it take to have an impact?

We understand that the loss of sagebrush habitat due to development and crop conversion are in part to blame for declining numbers of the Sage-grouse. Studies have also suggested that light and sound can bother the birds. But they haven’t determined what level of sound is the problem. How loud is too loud?

In Wyoming, Conservancy scientist Holly Copeland and colleagues theorize that there may be a threshold for just how loud sounds can get before there is a negative impact on Sage-grouse. Hence the need to position the mics surrounding 22 leks in area with significant natural gas field development. With the sound data and long-term counts, they are assessing the importance of sounds created by human activity from drilling to road traffic.

Copeland is working with colleagues Skip Ambrose (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, retired) and Gail Patricelli (University of California Davis) on the project. They’ve completed gathering the data and are now in the process of analyzing it for a published study.

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