White Nose Syndrome closes Colorado caves

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The White Nose Syndrome sounds like a relic of the Studio 54 era. But the fungus, which has been killing bats in caves in the eastern United States, has spread far enough west that as early as today, the U.S. Forest Service Region 2 office in Golden will announce that all public caves region-wide will be closed for a year.

Here's the word from editor Richard Rhinehart (who also wrote this overview of the syndrome ) on the upcoming U.S. Forest Service move posted on www.coloradocaves.org:

Carl and I have received word that US Forest Service Region 2 plans to announce early next week, a Special Order for closing all caves region-wide in response to White Nose Syndrome. Region 2 includes all Forest and Grasslands within Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, most of Wyoming and most of South Dakota. This order will be in effect for 12 months. We have been told that re-opening any of the affected caves by subsequent Special Order or permit is extremely unlikely in the next 12 months. One place the announcement will be posted is the Region 2 website: http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/

The plan for the closures will consist of two steps. First, education of the cave-visiting public that a closure is in effect. Second, some trails which are primarily used to access caves will be closed.

There are a number of issues to discuss and decisions for the CCS to make in the coming days and weeks. Among these, the USFS is requesting help in placing signs at cave entrances to notify the public of the closure. The USFS also inquired whether the CCS would like to be identified or have a logo placed on the signs. The CCS will also need to decide what to do about access at Fly and Marble Caves. Carl Bern has spoken with the landowner Larry Blackwell and Larry will follow the CCS decision on this issue. We will be keeping the organized caving community informed, notifying CCS reps of upcoming votes, and we may have a special meeting of the CCS in the near future.

At this time caves on BLM land remain open. However, the BLM has indicated that they want their response to be in coordination with the USFS and so a similar closure on BLM lands may be expected. Decision-making by the BLM had been occurring at the state level, but the Washington Office is now stepping in.

The decision to close caves anywhere is always difficult and controversial. It should be noted though that land managing agencies, caver-run cave conservancies, and private cave owners across the eastern U.S. and into the west have come to similar conclusions regarding this course of action for dealing with WNS. As fellow cavers who share your passion, we know that cave closures are a bitter pill, particularly in the middle of summer. However, let us remember that over one million bats are estimated to have died from WNS and certain species face extinction. Cavers rightfully consider themselves to be stewards of the underground world. Across the west, our claim to that identity will be measured to some extent by our support for these closures. While the USFS Region 2 decision was made without involvement from Carl or myself, we respect its necessity and support the closure. We hope that the caving community as a whole will also respect and support the closure. As this situation continues to evolve, the Colorado Cave Survey will continue, as always, to advocate for both cave conservation and cave ACCESS.

Yours in caving,

Dave Lambert Chairman Colorado Cave Survey

So far, the order does not extend to caves on BLM or NPS lands, nor privately owned commercial caves, including Glenwood Caverns.

Be careful: It's dark out there.

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