U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Region Caves to Reopen

Little Brown Bat with White-nose Syndrome.

Little Brown Bat with White-nose Syndrome. Photo by USFWS/Southeast

Caves in the Rocky Mountain Region of the U.S. Forest Service, which have been closed for the last three years due to the threat of white-nose syndrome, will reopen again this summer.

The region, which covers covers five states, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas and most of Wyoming and South Dakota, recently released its environmental assessment on the management of caves and mines for white-nose syndrome.

The detailed 24 page document outlines three potential courses of action: letting the current closure order expire, an adaptive management approach, and full closure of all caves, similar to what is in force now.

The adaptive management approach, developed with the help of public input, is divided into three tiers.

The first tier, which applies when Geomyces Destructans or white-nose syndrome has not been found within 250 miles (400 kilometers), allows access to caves, with winter closures of known hibernacula. It also requires cavers to use an online registration system for cave access and prohibits use of clothing gear from infected states and Canadian provinces.

The second tier comes into effect when the fungus has been confirmed within 250 miles (400 kilometers). It closes all caves, but allows for some specifically targeted caves to be opened.

Finally, the third tier is a special case that allows for caves to potentially be open when Geomyces Destructans or white-nose syndrome is present, but only if the impacts have been found to be minimal.

So far, five of the ten administrative units, including Black Hills, Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, Gunnison, Rio Grande, San Juan and Shoshone National Forests, have announced their decision and each of them have opted for the adaptive management approach. All except the San Juan National Forest have also opted to enforce the option for mandatory decontamination.

This means that, unless WNS makes a big jump in the next few months, at least some of the caves that have been closed since the emergency closure order was first put in place three years ago, will be opening when the order expires at the end of July.

In the mean time, the current closure order, with exemptions for National Speleological Society and Cave Research Foundation members, remains in effect.

Keep watch at the Rocky Mountain Region White-Nose Syndrome Environmental Analysis page for the decisions of the remaining administrative units.

Environmental Analysis for White-Nose Syndrome [Rocky Mountain Region of the U.S. Forest Service via Peter Youngbaer]

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