By Cathy Brandt
Due to life-long arthritis and now a bit of the "A" word (age), I can't hike very deep into wilderness areas. However, when I do I'm looking to experience solitude—to get away from masses of people and their litter, cell phones, dogs barking, and aircraft noise. It's very sad that some people have never been away from these distractions and never know what they're missing.
We all deserve wild solitude and I feel human beings actually need it. In the wild all of our senses experience fresh cues, and our lungs take in more clean air and oxygen. For some of us, it can also be a very emotional experience. A few tears may be shed at the sight of a wondrous peak, or a gurgling moss-lined creek. Wild places are my church, and many would agree with me on that!
Humans receive these benefits while in the wilderness, but wildlife species especially deserve to be left undisturbed to eke out their lives. I have an environmental and wildlife science background so I'm a big advocate for preserving habitat, and whenever possible not altering our natural world. While conducting wildlife surveys I experienced what it's like to be all alone in the wilderness and to witness how our ecosystems are supposed to operate. Wildlife and nature is my passion...
On a recent trip my husband and I hiked the 4.5-mile one-way trip to Pete Lake near Salmon La Sac, Washington. A great portion of the trail is in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. It's an easy hike but it encompasses breathtaking beauty along the way. There were abundant, delicious wild blueberries (mountain huckleberry) to snack on, and flowers in bloom such as lupine, fireweed, etc. There were lovely stream crossings along the way, and we saw many frogs on the trail that were barely the size of a little fingernail.
On our hike to the lake, we had the trail all to ourselves (except just before the lake), which was wonderful. Also, while at Pete Lake we only saw and spoke with two people, Forest Service women. Pete Lake was gorgeous that day...so clear, with little islands here and there out in the middle of the lake. We wished we had kayaks so we could have quietly explored the lake. Oh, and what a view of the snow-capped mountains ahead!
All of this would have been perfect except for several disturbing interruptions. Fairly early into our hike (which was on 8/6/20, around 10 AM) we heard a very loud roar overhead, and it actually scared me! I initially thought it may have been a large landslide somewhere because when we looked directly above us we saw no airplanes. This happened a few more times and I finally caught a glimpse of it. A fighter jet right above us, flying faster than the speed of sound, which explained why we didn't see the jets earlier.
Several jets would fly over at a time, and this happened fairly frequently throughout our entire hike. They were flying relatively low. That horrendous noise was maddening, and you had to stop and cover your ears to protect them. My husband is very hard of hearing, and it even bothered him. How could this be happening? Was it the Navy? In what instance should anything or anyone have permission to do this in this beautiful setting, or DID they have permission?
I don't think I've ever personally experienced such an obscene assault on our natural world, all while hiking in the supposed "Wilderness". The only thing worse I've experienced was years ago in an Olympic Peninsula forest during my "Marbled Murrelet" survey days, watching pre-cut trees (huge, ancient evergreens) being "processed" by running them through machines that ripped off their bark and huge branches in a matter of seconds. I felt physically ill when I watched that, knowing that the trees were many hundreds of years old.
During our trip to Pete Lake, the disturbing jet noise greatly altered the peaceful experience we should have had, and it surely affected the wildlife! I thought, "How often does this roaring occur, a disturbance that resident wildlife would have to endure in their everyday life, in their home?". These types of intrusions can detrimentally disrupt wildlife behaviors—their movements/migrations, mating opportunities, while hunting their prey, or defending themselves from predators.
It is not right that this is occurring, and it needs to be addressed! We must all speak out and act at times like these. I thank Wilderness Watch for what they do! Thanks to all who are reading my story, and I hope it helps to provide people an impetus to get more involved.
Several of our commenters have asked what they can do about these flight intrustions in Wilderness. Wilderness Watch recommends that folks contact their Congressional delegation and ask for action. Ask them to complain to the Navy and the Federal Aviation Administration, and to enact measures to protect Wildernesses from these kinds of military overflights. The Wilderness Act unfortunately does not protect the airspace above designated Wildernesses.
“Wilderness Experienced” is a platform to share stories of recent experiences in Wilderness. Stories focus on the virtues of Wilderness and/or challenges facing the National Wilderness Preservation System.
We encourage readers to engage the authors and other commenters through the comment feature. Please be respectful and thoughtful in your response, and focus your comments on the issues/experiences presented. Please refrain from personal attacks and harassment, using rude or disruptive language, providing misinformation, or promoting violence or illegal activities. We reserve the right to reject comments. Thank you for your cooperation and support.
I enjoyed this story, it's amazing how humans can destroy a moment. Thanks to everyone that respects all wildlife.
The wilderness has always been my church. I feel so close to God meditating and/or prayer with the wild birds and animals around me. I feel so at peace in the wilderness, woods, etc. I think in this day & age, everyone needs that bit of solitude once in a while.
I live in Silver City, NM, near Gila National Forest. The Air Force is doing training flights here over the wilderness areas. I totally agree with the other respondents how disturbing this is to the wildlife and to people trying to enjoy the wilderness. Also they are allowed to drop flares over the area and we are in extreme drought conditions. Makes no sense at all.
It's hard to shake the notion that some of this is retaliatory on the Navy's part. Our state of Washington has a contentious relationship with the other Washington, there's a local group on Whidbey Island attempting to preserve their community from this horrific noise, and our state attorney general (admirably) now has a legally adversarial relationship with the Navy. I've been backpacking and hiking the Cascades and Olympics for a quarter century and have encountered too many military jets while doing so, but it's gotten much worse in recent years.
I am truly sorry to hear about the distress caused by jet noise. Many people despise the jet noise, as it can tend to be loud and disturbing not only to humans, who know what it is and how to react but also to animals, who unfortunately do not know. There is, however, more to the story than the jets going and flying low just for fun around the North Cascades. The aircraft frequent the route are EA-18G Growler Electronic Attack aircraft from NAS Whidbey Island in Anacortes, and the F-15E Strike Eagle, based in Mountain Home, Idaho. Occasionally, the route sees visiting squadrons from all around the United States, and some days, F-15C Eagles from the base in Portland, Oregon. There is a reason for so many aircraft using this route: it is necessary for their training. In recent history, combat theaters such as Afghanistan have very high mountains and rocky terrain, similar to those found in the North Cascades. To avoid radar detection, the jets must fly low and fast, allowing them to reach targets undetected. This isn't an easy feat, so the pilots must train to do this before going overseas. On a young pilot's first combat tour, flying below 500 feet and at 600 miles an hour would be extremely dangerous and stressful to the aircrew. The low-level flying environment is unforgiving, especially in hostile territory. This training is routine, and part of the curriculum issued to these squadrons all around the country. The pacific northwest is also not the only location in the United States with low-level routes; they exist in virtually every state, and in countries all around the world for all of the world's airforces to train on. The route in question is called the "VR-1355." On an aviation VFR sectional chart, such as those found on skyvector.com, the low-level routes are denoted by thin gray lines with the characters "VR-####" (VR=Visual Route, meaning it is flown at or below 500 feet. The numbers that follow are simply a code to distinguish all of the different routes). As for your point of the jets flying above the speed of sound, you would know for sure if it was. It would be the fastest moving airplane you have ever seen in your life, and you wouldn't hear it until it was past you. As it passed you by, you would hear an extremely loud explosion (also known as a "Sonic Boom", the sound of pressure waves being compressed at speeds in excess of 770mph (at standard temperature/pressure). It is illegal for jets to go above the speed of sound over land in the United States, and pilots who break that rule these days are severely punished. All flights have flight data recorders that are debriefed after the flight, so it can be seen if a pilot breaks the barrier. I have been hiking in the Cascades and seen these jets whizz by before, and I have never seen them within 100mph of the speed of sound. What you could have heard was something called "afterburner," a sort of overdrive mode for the engine which creates flames out of the back and increases the volume and rumble. Complaints can be addressed to the USN/USAF, however, these units receive hundreds of noise complaints a month and they already do their best to follow noise abatement procedures. As for the FAA, the VR-1355 is already on a "natural park" designated area on the FAA sectional, which means all aircraft must fly at least 2,000 feet above the terrain. This rule doesn't apply to the USN/USAF, as they use a different set of rules regarding airspace that the FAA often has no control over. I hope this has been an insightful/helpful paragraph. Thank you for sharing your experience! I, too, hope a resolution can be met.
Thank you Bradley Davis for all your technical knowledge! OK, it sounds like what I experienced hearing was 'afterburner'. (Extremely loud and disturbing, either way.) Your comment took me back to 'Memory Lane, when we did hear 'sonic booms' in our neighborhood while growing up (and at times a few windows were even broken)! I have great respect for our Armed Forces (my husband is an Air Force veteran), and I do agree that our Military must be trained properly! I'd like to think there are other equally mountainous areas which can serve the same purpose in training, but that are NOT in the 'Wilderness'? (I will be contacting the Sound Alliance for more information, as advised by others.) Yes, let's hope there can be a resolution!
Thank you, Bradley for sharing information that is not easily found by most of us. I, too, hope there can be resolution. The likelihood of a a compromise benefitting the wilds certainly sounds discouraging. And thank you to all that actively raise look into and then share information with the intent to protect and preserve our wilds. Doing so is vital to the health our our world, essential to human well being as well as all life.
The sounds, smells and fauna all remind us of the Wilderness we all need. However, politics and money are in charge of this world and we see valuable tracks of land gone, big companies take over and plunder for the stockholders. Please, don't buy Stocks that engage in this behavior, they farm old trees and send them to Japan, They dig new caves and build houses, all for the enjoyment of those that can afford it, without thinking. Please, send out many petitions and ask others for help in preservation. Thank you, Ann Freed, Ph.D.
Very good point, Ann Freed! Unfortunately, money does equate to power regarding many of these adverse actions. If we refuse to invest in (or if we divest from) stocks that are connected to these activities, we can help make a difference!
I have a problem with the way the attitude has changed regarding the environment.
I don't think it can be laid entirely at the door of the Trump administration.
If you care about the environment you are classified as a "DO GOODER" and dismissed as well meaning but misguided.
This angers me and makes we wonder just what these people think will happen if we don't act quickly and with just cause.
Oregon here: calling congress rep DeFazio & Senators Wyden & Merkley.
And continuing to call until they agree to take action to stop/change this egregious “practice”.
This is also a time we all need to call regarding the wild horse round ups where horses are terrorized, injured & killed (especially the foals).
Deborah Thelen, much credit goes to groups such as The Wilderness Watch, North Cascades Conservations Council in Oregon (N3C), the Greater Hells Canyon Council (GHCC) in WA State, and many other grassroots organizations, which have all provided the impetus for individual actions! NOTE: What has always been shared by an environmental legend I am honored to know (Brock Evans, too many achievements to list here)...it takes 'Endless Pressure, Endlessly Applied' to effect change!
I believe that there should be limited airspace in areas near this part of the Pacific Northwest.
if there military bases near Pete Lake close to the city or town of Salmon La Sac, Washington scheduled flights should be moderated only for early (before 10 am)morning flights, and flights between the time range of 12:00 pm to 5:00pm. People probably like to go long walks, airlines flying above may be disturbing wildlife nearby when flights are occurring. Fighter Jets are extremely loud, I understand the US Military needs to do certain testing in the air for fighter jets but the Navy and Federal Aviation Administration can probably help you in this matter better.
Just Google your State Congressman/ or woman and look up the contact information to talk someone on their staff.
I believe doing it this way can be a great path to fix your problem.
My backpacking partner and I have a decades-running joke--you know you're in a wilderness area when all you hear is the constant roar of air traffic. How amazing would it be to be able to walk somewhere that you could truly escape the din of the machines we've made? It's shameful that we don't even allow animals that peace.
Cathy - Thanks for your story. Unfortunately this happens daily here in Washington State. As an avid hiker these growler flights from NAS Whidbey have increased tremendously. I call the Navy every time and leave a voice mail complaint. Their number is 360-257-6665. I have also been involved with a group called Sound Defense Alliance. This group is trying to fight against this constant bombardment of noise in the wilderness areas and over our homes. I also think there is a law suit against the Navy right now about noise over the Olympic Peninsula.
I have been to several group meetings with the Navy on Whidbey Island, and their stance is "We're the Navy - we can do whatever we want because it's in the interest of national security". I have written several letter to our Representative Rick Larsen and our 2 senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray. No response from Murry, but I did get a response from Cantwell about how we all need to get along an cooperate. It was basically BS. I'm not sure how we can effect any kind of action against the Navy until we get a law passed about limiting jet noise over our wilderness areas. It's frustrating and disappointing when we work so hard to hike into these areas and can't find any peace and quiet.
Paula Shafransky, isn't that the truth! I am a supporter of our Military (and our Men in Blue), but there has to be a better way to achieve both!
Thanks for the phone number and info., and I hope others will take action as well!
Cathy, I live in the Methow Valley and listen to these growlers 2-5 days a week, no exaggeration. They fly so low that if you are on a hillside you are often at eye level as they fly in a valley, far below their 'legal' limit. The sound goes on and on like thunder in a nightmare. I do not hike much at all anymore, because there is no peace in the Cascades, I'm tense and angry, waiting for the noise invasion, thinking of the animals, and what people in dozens of countries have dealt with for decades.
Residing in Anacortes and Lopez Island I also dealt with these narcissistic power trippers. The pilots used to play in these areas a handful of times a year, now it's constant. Peace is gone from WA state, and any state with a big air force.
There is an organization fighting to stop this constant terror, from Whidbey Island, sorry I cannot conjure up the name right now.
Good fortune in finding yourself on a quiet hike now and then. Thank you for writing on this, and sharing your experience.