YEARS ago, when selective logging was first introduced, a community near an old-growth forest in the Sierra Nevada was assured that the removal of a few trees here and there would have no impact on the area’s wildlife. Based on the logging company’s guarantees, the local residents agreed to the operation. I was skeptical, however, and requested permission torecord the sounds of the habitat before and after the logging.
On June 21, 1988, I recorded a rich dawn chorus in California’s pristine Lincoln Meadow. It was a biome replete with the voices of Lincoln’s sparrows, MacGillivray’s warblers, Williamson’s sapsuckers, pileated woodpeckers, golden-crowned kinglets, robins and grosbeaks, as well as squirrels, spring peepers and numerous insects. I captured them all.
When I returned a year later, nothing appeared to have changed at first glance. No stumps or debris — just conifers and lush understory. But to the ear — and to the recorder — the difference was shocking. I’ve returned 15 times since then, and even years later, the density and diversity of voices are still lost. There is a muted hush, broken only by the sound of an occasional sparrow, raptor, raven or sapsucker. The numinous richness of the original biophony is gone.
Lesson: While a picture may be worth a thousand words, a soundscape is worth a thousand pictures.