Monongahela National Forest Cave Closures Renewed Indefinitely
An attempt to protect its endangered, threatened, and sensitive bat species from the potential risk of the humans spreading white-nose syndrome, the order has been in effect since 2009.
Unfortunately, instead of renewing it on an annual basis as they had in previous years, this order took the extraordinary measure of extending the closures indefinitely. That is, until such a time that a long-term cave management plan is developed or new information about white-nose syndrome would give reason to open the caves.
According to 2012s closure renewal, which also mentioned the caves will remain closed pending a long-term strategy, the process of developing a cave management strategy was supposed to have started last summer.
It’s been very difficult to predict the long term effects of any management actions, so we’ve been taking the most cautious approach to protecting bats in caves. This is especially important since the Monongahela contains numerous caves heavily used by bats and the Forest in general is important to sustaining bat populations. Clyde Thompson, Monongahela National Forest Forest Supervisor
Interestingly, the Monongahela National Forest was the subject of a 2012 study, partially funded by the U.S. Forest Service, on the social and economic values of caves on National Forest Lands.
It concluded that managers making decisions should be aware of the social and economic values at stake and should acknowledge and consider the importance of these public places to the caving community.
It further suggested that in order to provide the best management for the caves and bats, cavers should be engaged in the planning and implementation of stewardship efforts.
Although the lack of expiry on the renewal doesn’t inspire much confidence, let’s hope a reasonable long-term strategy is announced soon.
Order No. 09-21-13-13 Cave Closure Order [U.S. Forest Service]