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.
That organization is Sound Defense Alliance. They/we are doing what we can to challenge the Navy's arrogance in flying low and loudly over our communities, over marine mammals, over the Olympic Rainforest ('quietest place in America') etc.
Cathy, I agree with everything you’ve said. I enjoyed reading your story. I live in CT, but often vacation in NY’s Adirondack Park. There is nothing better than being out in the woods and observing the native wildlife and beautiful scenery. I, too have often had my peace and quiet disturbed by Air Force jets out of the Rome, NY base. These jets fly very low in an effort to avoid radar during “war games”. It is unfortunate and disturbing for people, birds, and animals. Unfortunately, I do not believe that the military will change their ways, no matter how much we complain to our elected representatives.
George - I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but "Air Force jets out of the Rome, NY base" has not happened since at least 1995 --- some 25+ years ago. The former Griffiss AFB (located next to Rome) was inactivated in 1995 and all of its flying missions were transferred elsewhere in the years leading up to 1995. So the aircraft you are referring to come from other locations, most likely from military bases not in NY state.
More detailed FAA regulations from Popular Mechanics:
I live in Colorado and I find these flyovers maddening and sad. I am sure the wildlife doesn’t appreciate them either. So many of us go out in nature to escape all the noise and boost our mental and physical health. To find that the noise and pollution has followed us is so disheartening. Please stop these intrusions. Our well being and Nature’s well being need quiet places to renew and restore our being.
I live in NYS, in the country & I know the noise from helicopters flying over this area - small planes too. But to be in actual Wilderness & have that kind of horrendous noise, knowing what it must do to the animals in that habitat? I agree, there is no reason for that to happen. And frankly if these areas are actually Wilderness - WHY? I know the past 4 years the protections removed from far too many wild places has put them at risk even more. Yes we humans have done so much damage or allowed the damage to happen. We all need to speak up - no matter our age or our financial situation. IF and thats a big IF, we achieve change in this election, we cant afford to relax. We have to stick up for our wild places & the animals that live there, and, of course for this organization and others that have done so much good.
Thank you for sharing this! I hope more rational days are coming soon. In the meantime we must vigilantly protect our earth.
I couldn’t agree with you more. Thank you for sharing this with us.
Now they plan on going into the Tongass Forest to log and disrupt the wildlife. I feel so sad to see what mankind is doing.
How can we stop this decision and aircraft patterns over wildlife areas. Would it help if they flew at a higher altitude?
I too have always been happiest when I was in a wilderness area far from other people and all their racket and commotion. I would do this every year 1 or 2 times, usually for a week at a time, I am also too old now to do more than 3 or 4 miles a day in rough terrain. I have seen most of the us wild areas and have wonderful memories of all the times spent there. A lot of these areas have been lost or compromised in the last 60 years. If you haven’t seen them you should, but please, heed the words of us old wilderness trekkers, take only pictures, leave only footprints, and be QUIET, human racket is very disruptive to wildlife.
Randall Boltz, thanks for the lovely reminder to take only pictures, and leave only (light) footprints! (I am a talker, but while hiking, not so much...)
Those jets you heard, usually two at a time, are from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station in Oak Harbor. They usually fly down the Columbia River canyon East of Wenatchee then on to Desert Aire, where I live then, I think, fly home over the Yakima Firing Range. They are indeed noisy and imagine the fuel they use for a little practice.
Did not think bout plains disruptng wildlife. Tgank you for ur story. Yes this needs to stop bsides thechemicals that r being distributed by the jets etc.