Friday, July 23, 2010

Forest Service considering closing Western caves to slow spread of bat-killing disease

Federal and state agencies in the Eastern U.S. have been closing caves in an effort to slow the spread of mysterious white-nose syndrome killing bat populations; now Western U.S. parks are considering similar closures, though the syndrome still appears to be hundreds of miles away. "The closures would limit human access to caves on Forest Service lands in Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and most of Wyoming and South Dakota in hopes of stemming white-nose syndrome, which scientists believe people can transport on clothing, boots, caving gear and other equipment," Eryn Gable reports for Environment & Energy Daily.

"It is something we are considering, but we are yet to make the final decision," Janelle Smith, a spokeswoman for the service's Rocky Mountain region, told Gable. The closure issue could be announced in the next couple of weeks and is expected to last for 12 months, Gable writes. The order could also limit access to some trails that lead to caves. Karen Carter, the agency's spokeswoman for the Southwest region, told Gable the agency is expected to make a decision on its response to the disease, including cave closures, in the next few weeks.

White-nose syndrome was first discovered in a cave in upstate New York in early 2006 and has since been discovered in 14 states and two Canadian provinces with bats throughout much of the affected area now dying at extremely high rates. Cave closures have shaken the caving community as officials look to fight the spread of the disease. Colorado Cave Survey chairman David Lambert told Gable the decision to close caves in that state was "difficult and controversial" and "a bitter pill," but his organization supported the closures. "Cavers rightfully consider themselves to be stewards of the underground world," he told Gable. "Across the West, our claim to that identity will be measured to some extent by our support for these closures." (Read more, subscription required)

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