Nutty Putty Cave, UT

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Nutty Putty Cave, UT

Postby ron_miller » Dec 2, 2009 4:05 am

While reading about Nutty Putty Cave, I noticed several factors that suggest the possibility that a precipitous decision to seal the cave could be problematic from an environmental or scientific perspective.

The cave is reportedly of hydrothermal origin; the unusually warm temperatures in the cave (relative to the mean annual surface temperature) suggest the possibility of an ongoing connection with a geothermal heat source. Hydrothermal activity is often associated with extensive sulfur-based microbial activity. In discussing the cave's hydrothermal origins, the geology article on the NuttyPuttyCave.com web site contains several references to the current or former presence of sulfur compounds. Also, the cave's signature "Nutty Putty" clay-like material also appears to be unusual in nature; clay-like compounds are sometimes associated with microbial activity.

Sulfur-based microbial activity in caves and in active hydrothermal areas represents a very active area of scientific research; many of the microbes that have been identified in sulfur-origin caves are new to science.

Has anyone investigated the possibility that significant microbial life may be present in Nutty Putty Cave? None of the Nutty Putty sources reference anything like this, and a cursory search on Google and Google Scholar did not identify any published papers on this topic.

Also, have any of the cave managers or the land owners considered the potential ramifications to the cave biota (and possibly microbiota) of completely sealing up the natural entrance to this cave? Is there any requirement for the land owner, SITLA, which appears to be an agency of the State of Utah, to undertake an environmental assessment before undertaking such an environmentally significant act as permanently sealing the cave?
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Nutty Putty Cave, UT

Postby Tim White » Dec 2, 2009 8:55 am

I am opening this topic to discuss Nutty Putty Cave, the physical cave, NOT the resent incident occurred there. (for more on the incident see: Another rescue in progress at Utah's Nutty Putty Cave).

To start the topic off, I’ve moved Rom Miller’s post form the Cave Rescue Forum to this topic. See above.
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Re: Nutty Putty Cave, UT

Postby Caverdale » Dec 2, 2009 9:38 am

Little, if nothing, has been done to investigate the biota in Nutty Putty Cave. Since the cave has been closed to all human entry for the foreseeable future, it is most likely that nothing can be done.
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Re: Nutty Putty Cave, UT

Postby Bill Putnam » Dec 2, 2009 2:02 pm

From a conservation and science point of view, I cannot see any merit in the idea of sealing the cave as has been described (blasting passages and then filling the entrance sink with concrete. This cannot be good for the cave or its inhabitants. Similarly, from a recreation viewpoint, a fun and challenging cave enjoyed each year by thousands of visitors will be destroyed because of a single unfortunate and tragic accident. That approach will clearly result in a great loss to the caving community and to the public at large, from a natural resource management and science standpoint.

Of course, it would probably achieve the stated goal of preventing any more rescues or deaths in the cave, but at what cost? The cave actually has a much better safety record than many other caves that have been the scenes of rescues or fatalities. We know this because we know the approximate visitation level to be at least an order of magnitude greater than most wild caves. Are the authorities now going to seal any cave that experiences a fatality or more than 4 rescues in order to "protect the public?"

Would we close a beach forever because of a drowning, or a shark attack? Shall we close any mountain or rock climb that is the scene of a fatality? Oregon's Mt. Hood has had several in recent years - should it be closed to climbing to protect the public? Same question for Denali and many other mountains. And when a grizzly kills a hiker in Yellowstone or Denali or Glacier National Park, should the parks be closed forever to protect us?

Taking it one step further, should "risky" activities like caving or climbing be prohibited as "too dangerous" for participants and for potential rescuers? What about skydiving, hang gliding, bungee jumping, BASE jumping, scuba diving, motorcycling, hunting, surfing, or any other non-mainstream activities that occasionally result in the death of a participant?

To what lengths should our society go to protect people from themselves, and the consequences of their choices or mistakes?

Why are cavers not more vocal in opposing the permanent closure of this cave? What will happen to the next cave in Utah that is the scene of a rescue, or, God forbid, a fatality? What will this do to caving in Utah and the surrounding area? In the rest of the country? Cave owners all over America are seeing and hearing this and many are no doubt thinking, " I sure wouldn't want that happening on my land." What will they decide to do after this is over?

And what exactly is the NSS doing to address these issues?
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Re: Nutty Putty Cave, UT

Postby graveleye » Dec 2, 2009 2:12 pm

Bill Putnam wrote:
Why are cavers not more vocal in opposing the permanent closure of this cave?

And what exactly is the NSS doing to address these issues?


I would be more vocal except I don't know who to vocalize to.
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Re: Nutty Putty Cave, UT

Postby ron_miller » Dec 2, 2009 3:29 pm

graveleye wrote:I would be more vocal except I don't know who to vocalize to.
\

The land owner is:

Utah Trust Lands
Main Office
675 East 500 South, Suite 500
Salt Lake City, UT 84102
801-538-5100
http://www.utahtrustlands.com

Some email addresses and phone numbers:
Utah Trust Lands:
Kevin Carter, Director - Kevincarter@utah.gov - 801-538-5100
John Andrews, Associate Director and General Counsel - jandrews@utah.gov - 801-538-5180
Dave Hebertson, Public Relations Manager for Utah Trust Landsdavehebertson@utah.gov 801-538-5102

Utah County Sheriff
James O. Tracy, Utah County Sheriff - Jimtr.ucso@state.ut.us - 801-851-4000

Timpanogos Grotto
Michael Leavitt, Nutty Putty Cave Access Manager - Michael@nuttyputtycave.com
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Re: Nutty Putty Cave, UT

Postby David Grimes » Dec 2, 2009 4:28 pm

I know nothing at all about this cave first of all but is there a possibility that there may be a connection in another cave that might make sealing this cave ineffective? Also is there a possibility that another entrance could open in the future? I do not know much about caves in Utah but here in Indiana, while not extremely common, connections and new openings are found fairly regularly to known caves. If this is even a slight possibilty then sealing the entrance would definately not be the best solution.
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Re: Nutty Putty Cave, UT

Postby ron_miller » Dec 2, 2009 4:49 pm

David Grimes wrote:I know nothing at all about this cave first of all but is there a possibility that there may be a connection in another cave that might make sealing this cave ineffective? Also is there a possibility that another entrance could open in the future? I do not know much about caves in Utah but here in Indiana, while not extremely common, connections and new openings are found fairly regularly to known caves. If this is even a slight possibilty then sealing the entrance would definately not be the best solution.


According to the NuttyPuttyCave.com geology article,
Another new possibility is a new sink forming approximately 700 ft S15 degrees E of the entrance of nutty putty with a small amount of air blowing from it. Almost in line with it is another smaller sink approximately 500 ft from the Nutty Putty entrance. This may mean more cave paralleling the northern section, but with no known entrance in Nutty Putty itself. It would have the same sort of drainage as the southern part of Nutty Putty. There remains also the very remote possibility that there is a relationship between Nutty Putty and Rassle Knoll Pit.
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Re: Nutty Putty Cave, UT

Postby Caverdale » Dec 2, 2009 4:57 pm

David Grimes wrote:I know nothing at all about this cave first of all but is there a possibility that there may be a connection in another cave that might make sealing this cave ineffective? Also is there a possibility that another entrance could open in the future? I do not know much about caves in Utah but here in Indiana, while not extremely common, connections and new openings are found fairly regularly to known caves. If this is even a slight possibilty then sealing the entrance would definately not be the best solution.

No, there is virtually no chance of another entrance. All formations dip to the east about 45 degrees. Less than 100 feet to the east, where the passage in question heads, is the Deseret formation, which is shale at this location, so shale overlies much of the cave. The rest of the hill is nearly barren of vegetation, at least relative to the vegetation back east. The two other pits on the hill are quite distant and do not indicate in anyway of connecting. Thousands of people have walked and camped over the area and would have certainly noticed something. There are no sinkholes within miles.
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Re: Nutty Putty Cave, UT

Postby David Grimes » Dec 2, 2009 5:50 pm

Thanks for the info I was just curious about the possibility. I know here where I am you cannot go very far without finding a sinkhole but I am in a very karst rich area so I am not used to seeing caves without allot of sinkholes nearby.
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Re: Nutty Putty Cave, UT

Postby Anonymous_Coward » Dec 2, 2009 6:09 pm

ron_miller wrote:Has anyone investigated the possibility that significant microbial life may be present in Nutty Putty Cave?


No, it was not done when the cave was pristine. Now every passage has an elephant trail, most are floored with human-polished bedrock. I am not aware of any place in the cave where the namesake clay still exists. In short, there is certainly plenty of microbial life in the cave, but most of it would be of the human-introduced variety.

ron_miller wrote:Also, have any of the cave managers or the land owners considered the potential ramifications to the cave biota (and possibly microbiota) of completely sealing up the natural entrance to this cave?


Cave managers, yes. Land owners, no. Another concern is the persistent geothermal airflow.

ron_miller wrote:Is there any requirement for the land owner, SITLA, which appears to be an agency of the State of Utah, to undertake an environmental assessment before undertaking such an environmentally significant act as permanently sealing the cave?


No.

SITLA is a non-profit corporation and as such, manages private land, not public. It is the same as if this had happened on a farm in TN. The landowner has final say. Actually it is worse, as TN has a cave protection law and Utah does not. NEPA does not apply to state land, and the Utah state legislature has no intention of drafting any similar legislation.
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Re: Nutty Putty Cave, UT

Postby ron_miller » Dec 2, 2009 6:30 pm

Andy,

Thanks for the quick and comprehensive reply. I thought perhaps I might have identified a potentially productive angle to argue against precipitously sealing the cave, but that seems quite unlikely based on your responses.

Ron
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Re: Nutty Putty Cave, UT

Postby Anonymous_Coward » Dec 2, 2009 6:36 pm

Thanks for the effort. It is certainly a valid line of reasoning. I just wanted to let you know what we are up against here so you didn't spend too much time on it. I fear that Nutty Putty is lost for the time being.

That doesn't mean that the NSS shouldn't issue a statement, and it certainly doesn't mean that we shouldn't work towards a cave protection law here in Utah.
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Re: Nutty Putty Cave, UT

Postby Ralph E. Powers » Dec 2, 2009 9:16 pm

This is the word from Dave Shurtz who is a liasion between cavers and the Sheriff's depts and SITLA (the land owners)
It is what they have decided and so that is that!

For all interested,

I now have details of what the Sheriff's department are planning to do to the cave. The good part is that it leaves most of the cave intact for the future. Here they are for all of you:

First, as the family has determined to keep the body in the cave and use it as a tomb, the lower section of the slide part of the cave is to be blasted just below the drop where the ladder has been in that first belly crawl. This allows for the sanctity of that small part of the cave and also stops access to those parts of the lower area in the cave where people are likely to get stuck.

Second, To satisfy SITLA and yet comprimise for the cavers and the future, a cement plug will be poured in the belly crawl potion of the entrance. Plywood will be placed against the gate to preserve it intact. Cement will be poured to fill that area and up to the narrow part of the throat. The sinkhole will remain. This will be done to stop access to the cave while the body turns to bones (the smell is really bad already) and so long as SITLA and the political environment remain as they are. This preserves the cave intact and preserves the natural resource for future times when thinks are more favorable. The cement, with a lot of work can be removed and the cave would be back in business as before but without the constant hastle of the nasty tight areas we have had so much trouble with in the past.

Not a perfect solution but not total destruction of the cave which was what SITLA wanted.

This is just for your information.
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