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A (b)log of Natural Resources Info

Reflections from guest blogger Troy Walters, Northwoods Land Trust (NWLT) Monitoring Coordinator


Be Quiet and Listen: The Importance of Silence


During this low snow year, I got to thinking about my annual tradition of backcountry skiing in Sylvania Wilderness. I wondered; besides my love of skiing, why do I enjoy this particular ski outing so much? I think it is because it feels wild, untouched, and is stunningly quiet.  As a person who seems to be sensitive to loud noises, I glommed onto a 2018 National Public Radio (NPR) story about protection of “one square inch of silence.” Delving further into it, Gordon Hempton, an acoustic ecologist wrote a book that details his quest to preserve quiet. One Square Inch of Silence is an independent research project that is designed to show that protection of one square inch of silence can have acoustic and ecological ramifications far beyond that square inch. If no human-made sounds are allowed to reach that one square inch, that means a large area is being protected from “noise.” If you are wondering, this is a real place located in the Hoh Rain Forest in Washington’s Olympic Natural Park and denoted with a small red-colored stone placed on top of a moss-covered log (see photo; credit One Square Inch). You can learn more about "one square inch of silence" here:


When I used to work at Trees For Tomorrow (TFT), one of the activities we oftentimes did with students in Sylvania Wilderness was a silent sit. Students were instructed to spread out and sit and listen for at least five full minutes. When we gathered back up, we discussed what we heard and why wilderness areas might be important. I admit that I struggled discussing this more reflective component of the hike and may not have understood how impactful true silence can be. TFT still incorporates silent sits with school groups as often as possible. While I didn’t fully realize and appreciate it at the time, true silence is something to be treasured as it is becoming increasing rare. It is estimated that there are less than ten places left in the U.S. where there is fifteen minutes or more of silence (the absence of human sound). It is even postulated that these places may be non-existent in the next decade if nothing is done to help protect them. 


At my current job with the NWLT, our mission is to help protect land. This is done predominately through conservation easements where private landowners voluntarily choose to place development and other conservation restrictions on their property. The largest and perhaps most important restriction is lack of subdivision of the property. NWLT also protects land through outright land donations from individuals and land purchases. These properties are managed by NWLT with conservation in mind. All these methods of land protection have the cascading effect of promoting silence and thereby aiding in protection of silence.   


As I think about it, both jobs to some extent discussed (TFT) and in actual practice (NWLT) were designed to help conserve spaces of natural sound. It is almost as if the mission of both places coincide with what needs to be done to help promote silent places; TFT provides the education and NWLT provides the action. We can all take our own steps to help promote silence directly though carpooling to reduce road noise or walking and biking to places, ear buds to listen to music in public places, and interspersing more silent sports into your lifestyle. As I make my yearly trek through Sylvania Wilderness, I will have a greater appreciation of the protection of wild places and take time to sit and fully appreciate the silence.





Troy especially enjoys skiing in the near silent winter Northwoods forests. This photo was taken during a silent moment of reflection during his morning ski. 



In 2001, the Northwoods Land Trust (NWLT) was formed as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization – created when lake property owners and lake organizations expressed a need for permanent conservation options for private landowners. Shoreland protection remains among our highest priorities. 


Our region’s watersheds are healthy, with intact forests and wetlands, and excellent lake and river water quality.  One reason for having such healthy watersheds and high-quality waters is because of the amount of public and private conservation land that safeguard these resources.

Conservation land certainly plays a role in the economics of the region as natural-resource based tourism and recreation bring in millions of dollars of annual revenue to our communities.


Today, over 15,000 acres of land with 83+ miles of shoreline is protected by NWLT in our seven-county service area. These lands include private conservation easements, as well as conservation areas that NWLT owns and manages that are open to the public year-round. Every year more land is placed under permanent conservation to leave a lasting legacy for future generations.

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