Western U.S. Cavers Concerned over Closures

April 15, 2011

Since the outbreak of White-nose Syndrome in 2006, the Center for Biological Diversity, an influential environmental group based out of Tucson, Arizona has been petitioning for a blanket closure of all caves on U.S. public land, and for the prosecution of anyone traveling between bat caves under the Endangered Species Act.

The effort has been somewhat successful, producing closures of caves on U.S. Forest Service land in different areas across the U.S, and a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service advisory to close other federally managed caves and to require decontamination procedures be followed for those that are allowed access.

Some cavers, especially ones located in the western part of the U.S. that are yet to be affected by the disease believe the closures an unjustified overreaction.

“What’s happening is people want to help bats, they feel hopeless, there’s a million bats dead, that’s horrible, they’re grasping around maybe cavers can spread it, but with closures, they’re not getting much bang for the buck. They’re losing their first line of defense by closing caves to cavers.” – Mike McEachern, Northern Rocky Mountain Grotto

While bats are proven to spread White-nose amongst themselves, it is not clear weather or not people play a part in the transmission. There have been circumstances where large jumps in transmission have occurred that are not explained purely by bat movements.

“Some of these species are clearly headed for extinction if things don’t change. It is a sacrifice, but I have met many cavers who’ve hung up their gear. They don’t want to be responsible for moving this deadly fungus around. They may need to give this sport up.” – Mollie Matteson, Center for Biological Diversity

Aside from caving for recreation, there are many reasons that people visit caves. Archaeologists, biologists and climatologists are just some of the different occupations of people that pay visits to caves to try and gain information. Caves are also becoming an important tool to studying the feasibility of outer space travel.

“A blanket closure isn’t going to work. They can’t keep people from growing pot in the national forests, so they aren’t going to be protecting the caves.” – Mike McEachern, Northern Rocky Mountain Grotto

Montana cavers wary of closures due to bat disease [Missoulian]

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