North Alabama's Fern Cave Vandalized

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North Alabama's Fern Cave Vandalized

Postby Steve Pitts » Jul 17, 2011 3:50 pm

During a recent visit to collect specimens for scientific research, we discovered grafitti, vandalism and new evidence of recent unauthorized access to Fern Cave. We found initials and arrows carved on cave walls in one passage area leading to the summer gray bat roosting area, and another trail of arrows and markings scratched into cave walls leading all the way into Helactite Heaven, one of the most delicate and heavily decorated areas in any cave in TAG. This is a clear example for everyone that blanket cave closures put fragile karst resources, endangered species and ecosystems at greater risk by preventing intervention and monitoring of the cave by responsible permited cavers. Because of misguided policies based on ignorance and a lack awarness of best pracitices for cave management, Fern Cave has been closed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service for over two and a half years based on concerns that cavers threaten endangered gray bats that hibernate in the cave. Previous to the cave closure order from the USFWS, access management and monitoring of the cave was carried out by volunteers from the Huntsville Grotto of the National Speleological Society. During this time of consistent presence of NSS cavers, incidents of vandalism in the cave had been virtually eliminated. Now, managed, permited access for responsible cavers is prohibited, leaving the cave more vulnerable to irreperable damage than any time since its discovery. Fern Cave is the largest cave in Alabama, one of the most significant caves in TAG and home of the largest gray bat colony in the world.

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Re: North Alabama's Fern Cave Vandalized

Postby Phil Winkler » Jul 17, 2011 4:51 pm

Steve, that is the worst story of Fern I've ever heard and I never imagined it would ever happen. I can only surmise that over the years locals heard tales of it, the way to Helectite Heaven, Blowhole, etc. and simply went into the Johnston Entrance and had their fun. After all, who is watching?

Now what do we do?
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Re: North Alabama's Fern Cave Vandalized

Postby Steve Pitts » Jul 17, 2011 5:10 pm

Currently, the USFWS is employing what I would call "Management by Abandonment". If John Van Swearingen was still managing the cave, he would tell everyone exactly what I have said all along. You cannot manage Fern Cave by just telling everyone to stay away. There has to be an active caver presence to stop this from happening. Thats how it used to work. For the past 30 years, there was someone out there just about every single weekend. We need to be able to get back into the cave to remove the grafitti, otherwise, as it accumulates over the years , we will have no way to monitor it and keep tract of what's happening *inside* the cave. For the time being, we need to all make sure the public knows what this cave closure policy is going to do to our karst resources. All the public has been hearing about is how cavers are threatening cave ecosystems. Instead the public needs to know that, until prevented from doing so by the Federal Government, the caving community was very effective in protecting fragile karst ecosystems and the endangered species that inhabit them. Its time to speak up!
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Re: North Alabama's Fern Cave Vandalized

Postby self-deleted_user » Jul 17, 2011 5:17 pm

I've been speaking up since I started caving about a year ago.

I currently posted a link to this thread with a brief blurb on both facebook and G+. Not sure what else to do...I've written letters and stuff in the past. I'll just keep trying. Open to more ideas.

I thought SCCI owned an entrance? Can they reopen their entrance to at least get caver presence back or is that illegal? (I don't mean to derail the thread, just curious)
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Re: North Alabama's Fern Cave Vandalized

Postby Steve Pitts » Jul 17, 2011 6:33 pm

The USFWS owns the two primary entrances which are used to gain access to the cave system. The SCC owns the Surprise Pit entrance, and most of the property above the cave system.
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Re: North Alabama's Fern Cave Vandalized

Postby BrianC » Jul 17, 2011 6:36 pm

Steve, It has been well publicized that no cavers are watching our fragile underground. It is an open invitation to vandals! This will certainly become the way in the future where caves are safe haven for fun and excitement to those uneducated youths, and bats themselves at large risk and no one will know until it is to late! Education of underground environments is not needed in the future because there is no underground available to anyone legally. What a travesty! :doh:
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Re: North Alabama's Fern Cave Vandalized

Postby tncaver » Jul 17, 2011 9:19 pm

Closing of mass numbers of caves to EVERYONE also puts a lot of pressure on the few caves that are open or in this case, unsupervised.
Government seems to have a knack for doing everything wrong these days. Cavers also need to get out of their rut and become proactive
with Congress and all agencies ABOVE the USFWS. After all, the USFWS answers to higher powers that we as voters and citizens are supposed
to have influence over. Frankly the reason government works so poorly these days is because the masses provide so little input. 10,000
cavers COULD make a considerable influence if they would just speak up to those who make laws and regulations. :hairpull:
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Re: North Alabama's Fern Cave Vandalized

Postby BrianC » Jul 17, 2011 10:09 pm

tncaver wrote:Closing of mass numbers of caves to EVERYONE also puts a lot of pressure on the few caves that are open or in this case, unsupervised.
Government seems to have a knack for doing everything wrong these days. Cavers also need to get out of their rut and become proactive
with Congress and all agencies ABOVE the USFWS. After all, the USFWS answers to higher powers that we as voters and citizens are supposed
to have influence over. Frankly the reason government works so poorly these days is because the masses provide so little input. 10,000
cavers COULD make a considerable influence if they would just speak up to those who make laws and regulations. :hairpull:

Actually there are no voting conditions that could affect the federal environmental organisations in our country, rather the positions are appointed and have no accountability to the public! They simply Don't Care what we think! The only possible effective strategy is getting the American public on our side through the mass media. Unfortunately, the large mass media groups are already controlled by the federal regulators. We are screwed unless we can prove that humans do not spread WNS period! No less could possibly work period!
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Re: North Alabama's Fern Cave Vandalized

Postby tncaver » Jul 18, 2011 7:51 am

BrianC wrote: Actually there are no voting conditions that could affect the federal environmental organisations in our country, rather the positions are appointed and have no accountability to the public! They simply Don't Care what we think! The only possible effective strategy is getting the American public on our side through the mass media. Unfortunately, the large mass media groups are already controlled by the federal regulators. We are screwed unless we can prove that humans do not spread WNS period! No less could possibly work period!


Although I agree that many Federal jobs may be appointed, everyone still answers to our elected legislators. They not only affect who is appointed, they also
can pass laws or revise existing laws to change the way each department operates. Therefore I urge everyone to write their legislators and explain the bat situation to them in as polite and concise a manner as possible, while explaining the need to provide money for WNS research and the reason why "protecting" caves with gates or closing all caves is not going to stop WNS. In fact as colonies grow they become more susceptible to mass extinction. Mention that bats
are known to spread WNS bat to bat and that there is no documented case of any bats becoming infected by humans. Mention that closure of all caves hampers
our ability to monitor caves and bats.

Requiring permits is not going to stop vandals. Neither will closing all caves.

The media pretty much does as they please and they print what they want to print or in some cases what they are told by "officials" who are simply biased
or misinformed. All the more reason to educate the media with facts.
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Re: North Alabama's Fern Cave Vandalized

Postby Scoon1 » Jul 18, 2011 9:35 am

I'm laughing about the 'Closing caves' statement. Like the general public even knows what is going on. The only people that I know that stay out of 'closed caves' are cavers. Everybody else is still going in there. I agree with Steve. A stronger caver presence is an excellent way, not only to monitor, but to influence and inform the 'Spelunker' population.
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Re: North Alabama's Fern Cave Vandalized

Postby LukeM » Jul 18, 2011 10:13 am

Steve, is anyone suggesting this story to the press as something to cover? It seems to have the elements of a good news story: world's largest gray bat habitat, a national wildlife crisis, and a the government making things worse. Scandalous.
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Re: North Alabama's Fern Cave Vandalized

Postby tncaver » Jul 18, 2011 10:19 am

Scoon1 wrote:I'm laughing about the 'Closing caves' statement. Like the general public even knows what is going on. The only people that I know that stay out of 'closed caves' are cavers. Everybody else is still going in there. I agree with Steve. A stronger caver presence is an excellent way, not only to monitor, but to influence and inform the 'Spelunker' population.


Yes. I agree with Steve too in that respect. Closing everything is not accomplishing anything.
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Re: North Alabama's Fern Cave Vandalized

Postby self-deleted_user » Jul 18, 2011 10:28 am

LukeM wrote:Steve, is anyone suggesting this story to the press as something to cover? It seems to have the elements of a good news story: world's largest gray bat habitat, a national wildlife crisis, and a the government making things worse. Scandalous.
That would be a great idea. I'll contact newspapers in my area and try and get more national ones. I don't mind searching for folks to cover it. Just tell me who I should be telling them to contact, like if you can PM me your info, Steve, and maybe others who were on that trip.

In the US, ways to get the go'vt stirred up are news stories it seems. Sick of all of these wortheless news stories about WNS spreading the same old lies. There's nothing to be said /we/ can't contact the press too. Why not contact CNN, NY Times, Boston Globe, USA Today, and our local papers with this story?

And aren't gray bats one of the more easily disturbed species? Which puts them at even higher risk from vandals. Not to mention they are endangered, correct? All the more good elements of a news story!
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Re: North Alabama's Fern Cave Vandalized

Postby Steve Pitts » Jul 19, 2011 9:51 am

It is essential that we get this story out to the caving community. If the current USFWS policy continues, Not only will the cave suffer permanent damage, the endangered gray bats will actually be at greater risk. Their policy is the product of total ignorance of proper cave management. We cannot allow our finest caves to become victims of misguided bureaucrats.
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Re: North Alabama's Fern Cave Vandalized

Postby wvcaveman » Jul 19, 2011 11:13 am

Steve, thank you for sharing this information. It is tragic and sad that this beautiful cave has been impacted like this. Spreading the word about these events is essential, particularly among folks in USFS, USFWS, and Park Service. Fern is already designated -I'm sure- as a significant cave, which means it gets special attention and protections. There are many folks, including many NSS members, in federal agencies who are in agreement with our positions for responsible and realistic cave conservation. In fact, many are strong proponents of realistic cave conservation. Perhaps there are ways for us to help them help us. Resource inventory, especially including photographs and video, is a great way to get them the information they need to make realistic decisions about resource management.
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