Halt on Caving?

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Halt on Caving?

Postby Mirth Beneath the Earth » Feb 2, 2008 3:56 pm

I recently received an email from my grotto suggesting that we enact a moratorium on caving in our area until White Nose Syndrome is contained (if ever). The majority of the caves we visit harbour bats of the species known to be affected by WNS. Despite NCC's suggestions on preventing the spread of the contagion, and the fact that all of the cases appear to be localized in New York and Vermont, Pennsylvania is apparently close enough to the outbreaks to convince more than just a few people that caving should not be resumed unless WNS is no longer deemed a threat.

Is anyone else hearing this sort of sentiment from their own communities?
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Halt on caving

Postby nordicjw » Feb 2, 2008 4:20 pm

Jason,

You heard correctly. I live in upstate NY and belong to the Central Connecticut, MET Grottos and the NSS. Both NY and Vt conservation agencies have requested that cavers stay out of caves containing bat populations during the winter months. The NSS has closed their perserves in the Northeast. In Everything Bats you will find links to the press releases and the announcement by th NSS. I do not know is any other states or organizations have joined in this yet. It seems that alot of cavers are joining this action on there own. Whether or not it will help in solving the problem is unknown, but until more is known about this, lets do what we can.
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Re: Halt on Caving?

Postby Mirth Beneath the Earth » Feb 2, 2008 4:26 pm

Roger, wilco.
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Re: Halt on Caving?

Postby Mirth Beneath the Earth » Feb 3, 2008 12:19 am

"Hello fellow cavers ....

As many of you may have heard by now, there might be a great threat of contamination in our caves. In the northeast (NY and VT), some bats have been found with a deadly fungus infection. This fungus has been referred by many as the "white nose fungus". Seemingly, this fungus infection shows up as a white patch around the lips of the bats if not on other areas of the body. There are still a lot of questions and few answers on this mysterious topic.

I have been instructed by the NSS AVP and the NSS Preserves chair to close Tytoona while this threat exists. While exploring the cave is now prohibited, surface property visitation is still allowed under the same property posted rules. Simply put, you can still visit the kiosk and look at the entrance, but you are NOT allowed to enter the cave.

Signs will soon be erected on site notifying others of this closure. If you happen to visit the property and see others planning on going inside the cave, then please let them know of the caving closure act. The cave will also be monitored for illegal entry.

I have not been notified yet of how long this caving restriction will apply on Tytoona. Hopefully, more information will evolve from the White Nose Fungus problem so that caving activities can continue in the near future.

Tytoona does not really have a bat population to speak of (sometimes one or two is found and most of the time none). As far as I know, there are no cases of White Nose Fungus in Pennsylvania. We can only hope that the fungus infection is contained in the areas that it was found.

Yours in Caving,

Garrett Czmor, NSS 22709(R)(FE)
(NSS Manager for the Tytoona Cave Nature Preserve (PA)).
"


Shame. Tytoona was one of my favourites ... although I could have used a wetsuit.
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Re: Halt on Caving?

Postby ArCaver » Feb 3, 2008 9:01 am

Mirth Beneath the Earth wrote:"
>>snip<<

Tytoona does not really have a bat population to speak of (sometimes one or two is found and most of the time none). As far as I know, there are no cases of White Nose Fungus in Pennsylvania. We can only hope that the fungus infection is contained in the areas that it was found.

Yours in Caving,

Garrett Czmor, NSS 22709(R)(FE)
(NSS Manager for the Tytoona Cave Nature Preserve (PA)).
"


If no bats, why the closure?
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Re: Halt on Caving?

Postby tncaver » Feb 3, 2008 9:26 am

If there are no bats in a cave, why close a cave to caving? Sounds like unnecessary panic and overkill
without reason.
Most caves in the US that have known bat colonies are off limits during the winter hibernation months
anyway.
But I see no reason to limit caving in NON bat caves. It would be difficult for cavers to notify anyone of
random White Nose cases if no one can visit caves that might have just one bat.
Sounds counter productive to close all caves. :crazy:
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Re: Halt on Caving?

Postby NZcaver » Feb 3, 2008 9:45 am

tncaver wrote:If there are no bats in a cave, why close a cave to caving? Sounds like unnecessary panic and overkill
without reason.
Most caves in the US that have known bat colonies are off limits during the winter hibernation months
anyway.
But I see no reason to limit caving in NON bat caves. It would be difficult for cavers to notify anyone of
random White Nose cases if no one can visit caves that might have just one bat.
Sounds counter productive to close all caves. :crazy:

I agree. I'm in the northeast, and will certainly abide by the rules and not enter any caves/mines deemed closed or any others which have known bat populations. But this doesn't mean every cave. Why do that? :shrug:
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Re: Halt on Caving?

Postby adleedy » Feb 3, 2008 7:47 pm

I too agree, Most caves holding lare populations of bats are closed during the winter months anyways, so I see no reason to stop caving.
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Re: Halt on Caving?

Postby wyandottecaver » Feb 3, 2008 9:03 pm

We all laud the NSS for cave conservation and it's sound science ethic....until it interferes with our personal appeasement.

they are closing non-bat caves because.....

a few bats cave A has white nose death. person A goes there not knowing about WNS and becomes contaminated. person A then goes to no-bat cave B and leaves contamination. Person B (avoiding bat caves) goes to no bat cave B picks up contamination and flies home to KY and visits cave mammoth cave C. Then in summer cavers D-Z also visit no bat cave B and well you get the idea.

If I want to keep white nose death out of my cave (and yours) until we know what is going on, the easiest way is to STOP ALL visitation....

alternatively. Bat A has white nose death. instead of his usual hibernacula he stops at no bat cave B for a winter, or maybe just 1 day. Caver A, B, C, and D visit no bat cave B and then go visit caves D-Z.

In short, if you aren't going in any caves you CANT pick up or deposit contamination that may or may not be present.

I live in Indiana and *I* am not entering any caves that I know to contain any bats. As for going in caves as a way to find WNS. the odds are far far better that people will enter caves with WNS not notice it because it hasn't fully developed or the bats are 60' high and in the dark and the cavers thinking everything is O.K. then spread it. In at least 1 case WNS was not noticed until the biologist examined bats *IN THE HAND*.

Also, it is NOT TRUE that most hibernacula are closed to winter visitation. Most BIG hibernacula with Endangered species are. If you are in a cave and you see 1000 hibernating little brown bats (or any bats technically)....guess what...your in a hibernacula! If your at crawlathon 08' in Jan, in a certain heavily visited stream cave with the other 600 people there that weekend and notice the several thousand Indiana Bats along the wall at head height, guess what...your in a hibernacula!

Caving is fun and no one wants to stop, many people just wan't to do their own thing regardless. Until the what how and why of this pathogen are understood you may be helping to exterminate bats in the U.S. every time you enter ANY cave in the east.
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Re: Halt on Caving?

Postby NZcaver » Feb 3, 2008 11:48 pm

wyandottecaver wrote:We all laud the NSS for cave conservation and it's sound science ethic....until it interferes with our personal appeasement.

they are closing non-bat caves because.....

<snip>

Caving is fun and no one wants to stop, many people just wan't to do their own thing regardless. Until the what how and why of this pathogen are understood you may be helping to exterminate bats in the U.S. every time you enter ANY cave in the east.

You do have a valid opinion, but I must respectfully disagree with your blanket solution theory.

Of course I support the decision by the NSS to close their cave preserves in the northeast for the remainder of the winter. I'm all for listening to the experts and heeding good advice. However your advice is to bar human entry to every single cave in the Eastern United States. Do you really think this is prudent, practical, or even remotely possible? And by your reasoning these thousands of caves should remain closed indefinitely, until such time as exhaustive studies are complete and the all-clear has been given? What about the bats? When spring comes, should we find a way to prohibit them from moving between caves too?

Consider the facts. White Nose Fungus was known about last winter, in four fairly popular northeast caves. This year, two more northeast caves have been added to the list. This is of course a major concern for us all. Should appropriate precautions be taken to minimize further spread? Of course. Should priority be given to getting to the bottom of this and finding out all the hows and whys? Naturally. From all indications, is this a rapidly-spreading epidemic of catastrophic proportions? You may think so, but I would disagree. Let's not walk the path of blind paranoia which Teresa mentioned in this related thread. Consider the many people who have been out caving in different regions this past year, after caving in the northeast. Pardon my bluntness, but where's the trail of destruction? The NSS Convention was in your neighborhood last summer. I was there, and so were a lot of other northeastern cavers. How's your local bat population doing?

And as for lauding the NSS for cave conservation and science ethics only if it doesn't interfere with our own appeasement... maybe you're right. I guess you could say some of us get involved in mapping projects, digging trips, cave cleanups, archaeology surveys, bat counts, rescue training, and so forth just for our own selfish enjoyment. Not to mention all those recreational trips where some unsuspecting new folks might actually discover a passion for caves and caving, and help perpetuate our continued interest in caves. It's true. Those trips are all about appeasement.

I suppose in an truly ideal cave conservation world, caves would be off-limits to all and none of us would be here.
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Re: Halt on Caving?

Postby ArCaver » Feb 4, 2008 5:25 am

wyandottecaver wrote:We all laud the NSS for cave conservation and it's sound science ethic....until it interferes with our personal appeasement.

they are closing non-bat caves because.....

a few bats cave A has white nose death. person A goes there not knowing about WNS and becomes contaminated. person A then goes to no-bat cave B and leaves contamination. Person B (avoiding bat caves) goes to no bat cave B picks up contamination and flies home to KY and visits cave mammoth cave C. Then in summer cavers D-Z also visit no bat cave B and well you get the idea.

If I want to keep white nose death out of my cave (and yours) until we know what is going on, the easiest way is to STOP ALL visitation....

alternatively. Bat A has white nose death. instead of his usual hibernacula he stops at no bat cave B for a winter, or maybe just 1 day. Caver A, B, C, and D visit no bat cave B and then go visit caves D-Z.

In short, if you aren't going in any caves you CANT pick up or deposit contamination that may or may not be present.

I live in Indiana and *I* am not entering any caves that I know to contain any bats. As for going in caves as a way to find WNS. the odds are far far better that people will enter caves with WNS not notice it because it hasn't fully developed or the bats are 60' high and in the dark and the cavers thinking everything is O.K. then spread it. In at least 1 case WNS was not noticed until the biologist examined bats *IN THE HAND*.

Also, it is NOT TRUE that most hibernacula are closed to winter visitation. Most BIG hibernacula with Endangered species are. If you are in a cave and you see 1000 hibernating little brown bats (or any bats technically)....guess what...your in a hibernacula! If your at crawlathon 08' in Jan, in a certain heavily visited stream cave with the other 600 people there that weekend and notice the several thousand Indiana Bats along the wall at head height, guess what...your in a hibernacula!

Caving is fun and no one wants to stop, many people just wan't to do their own thing regardless. Until the what how and why of this pathogen are understood you may be helping to exterminate bats in the U.S. every time you enter ANY cave in the east.


Will all the show caves be closed this year? Surely there's no reason to think tourists and guides are cleaner in habit than the average caver. Just for the record I'm a tour guide at a show cave.
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Re: Halt on Caving?

Postby wyandottecaver » Feb 4, 2008 9:50 pm

Resonable people can agree to disagree, and I actually hope you are right and I am wrong

of course a "mandatory" closure of eastern caves is not possible if only for the reason that at least some portion of cavers regularly trespass as normal part of their caving habits and thus would not necessarily obey any additional restrictions anyway. Even considering those cavers (the majority) who would abide by any widespread call for broader restrictions there will be those who simply don't get the memo so to speak. so yes, there would be holes. As to whether trying to restrict or reduce those activities is prudent we can agree to disagree.

But as you say, consider the facts. Once a colony becomes infected 50-95% of the bats die the 1st year. It has spread at least 110KM in 1 year. We will have to wait and see if high mortality in the original sites continues or if there is a residual of resistant individuals. We will also have to wait to see if those sites are able to support populations into the future. We will have to see if the current infected mine complex with over 100,000 bats is affected to the extent of the previous sites. We will have to see if dispersing bats in the spring take it another 110km or farther. The stakes are very high

Contamination and infection are often a numbers game...i.e. the more times you take the risk the more likely a bad result is. (assuming human transport is possible, which we don't yet know) how many cavers who had been in those 4 caves last winter (at least 1 maybe more were probably closed due to Indiana Bats) then went to the IN convention in summer and caved with gear not cleaned since winter? How many might have dropped off spores that are just now beginning to infect overwintering populations? Our regular hibernacula surveys are every 2 years and will occur next winter.

I also did not intend that caving would cease indefinately. We may well know more by this time next winter and certainly within 2 winters we will probably know whether humans, bats, or both are vectors. Strangely, there are lots of people who never enter caves...in the face of such a serious threat is it prudent, practical, or even remotely possible for us to refrain from it for 1-2 winter seasons?

I have actually also addressed the issue of bat transport in other posts. If (as is probable) bats are found to be carrying the pathogen between sites, I do think we need to at least consider whether it is reasonable to consider eliminating infected colonies before they disperse in spring.

I also think I was unclear in my reference to the NSS and appeasement. All the activities you refer to are those we take voluntarily and in most cases we enjoy. I was talking about people grumbling about closing NSS preserves to caving, thus causing them to involuntarily not do something they wanted (or at least had the option) to do.

I think cavers should voluntarily not enter caves in the NE or bat caves east of the mississippi. You don't. Simple enough :big grin:
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Re: Halt on Caving?

Postby wyandottecaver » Feb 4, 2008 9:52 pm

I doubt any show caves are closed. Most are privately owned and they need visitors to survive. Most also do not have large populations of bats. Finally, most show cave cavers don't cave widely. Of course some federal or state properties *might* be affected particulary if WNS is found nearby.
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Re: Halt on Caving?

Postby Mirth Beneath the Earth » Feb 5, 2008 2:35 am

All of the emails I've been receiving from BCI simply advise us to stop caving in New York and Vermont. I would say that the unwritten message is to continue caving elsewhere, that way we can report any new cases of WNS to the proper authorities. They offer a relatively thorough decontamination procedure for gear - with the exception of disinfecting boots and helmets I already abide by BCI's suggestions after I cave anyway. A little more bleach won't hurt.
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Re: Halt on Caving?

Postby NZcaver » Feb 5, 2008 10:58 am

wyandottecaver wrote:I also did not intend that caving would cease indefinately. We may well know more by this time next winter and certainly within 2 winters we will probably know whether humans, bats, or both are vectors. Strangely, there are lots of people who never enter caves...in the face of such a serious threat is it prudent, practical, or even remotely possible for us to refrain from it for 1-2 winter seasons?

Ah, this is a good point. Sure it's possible for "us" conscientious cavers to voluntarily refrain from any caving in the region. I hope the vast majority of local cavers are already avoiding known bat hibernacula and closed caves, but again our opinions differ here as I just don't seen the point in avoiding those caves which are open and don't contain hibernating bats.

of course a "mandatory" closure of eastern caves is not possible if only for the reason that at least some portion of cavers regularly trespass as normal part of their caving habits and thus would not necessarily obey any additional restrictions anyway.

Another very good point. And what about all those other people who aren't really cavers? Some spelunkers and casual explorers may take heed of closures, but I'm thinking the majority just wouldn't care (or wouldn't even know).

I also think I was unclear in my reference to the NSS and appeasement. All the activities you refer to are those we take voluntarily and in most cases we enjoy. I was talking about people grumbling about closing NSS preserves to caving, thus causing them to involuntarily not do something they wanted (or at least had the option) to do.

Let me explain the reasoning behind my last comments. Personally I have few projects going, and for them to be effective I periodically need to enter (open, non-hibernacula) caves in the region over the winter. Many of these are somewhat time-specific. Should I abandon these projects and void much of the effort which has already gone into them? Or should all cavers be freed from guilt and allowed to enter regardless, because the cave is OPEN? I much prefer the latter option because the former is counterproductive - and without bats present, frankly it seems a rather pointless precaution.

I suppose we'll just have to agree to disagree on the finer points of this subject.
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