Monongahela Nat'l Forest Continues Closures

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Monongahela Nat'l Forest Continues Closures

Postby ohiocaver » Jul 2, 2013 3:21 pm

The Monongahela is continuing its bat closure policy. The link is here: http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/mnf/alert ... rdb5426017
I am told by the Forest Service Staff Officer for Public and Legislative Affairs, Lands, and Planning that this was an administrative action under a categorical exclusion which does not have a comment period. Which explains why caver input was not solicited nor expected.
In short, the current ORDER NO. 09-21-13-13 extends the previous prohibition on entering ANY cave on MNF (federal) lands until a cave management plan is completed or until there is other information (like new scientific info) that the Forest Supervisor can use to change that prohibition…either partially or entirely.
White nose syndrome was/is the basic driver for cave closures across the country on Forest Service lands, she told me in an email exchange. In WV, bat population counts have continued to drop. By now it isn’t so much a matter of containing spread (although that is still a potential benefit) as it is that the bat population has dropped so low that there are concerns about stressing the remaining bats by entering caves, she said. The caves containing known hibernacula and/or maternity colonies remain physically closed by gates.
How long it will be until the USFS reads its literature and opens caves where all the bats are gone or where WNS is a non-issue remains to be seen. Those caves where populations are struggling to re-build should be closed seasonally. Everything else, IMHO, should be open.
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Re: Monongahela Nat'l Forest Continues Closures

Postby JD » Jul 3, 2013 11:19 am

My e-mail to Monongahela NF. Note that this is the "tame" version, as I took out most of the really hot rhetoric from a previous draft.

"I am writing to protest your unacceptable and unscientific decision to close caves, which are owned by the public, on the Monongahela NF lands. This closure no longer has any valid scientific basis. The origins of the closure were supposedly in order to prevent the spread of WNS. This policy failed, as WNS is now in all of the forest, and indeed has now spread to the South and Midwest. So why are you keeping in place indefinitely a failed policy with no valid scientific rationale? When the closure was extended in 2012, it was said that the purpose was to allow the USFS to come up with a new strategy, Apparently your new strategy is to screw cave researchers and responsible visitors by keeping the caves closed forever.

This is unacceptable and will not be borne by the user community. Show me the scientific basis (in peer reviewed publications) indicating that this policy has a reasonable basis or a prayer of working…to do what? What is the purpose now that WV is SATURATED with WNS?

All that the ill-advised closure of caves has done is destroy relations between cave users, researchers, and the USFS. Many people who have worked with the service over the years are now strongly against your policies and actions. You have lost most of your “natural allies” and instead you have pushed people into anti-government positions. Cavers are no longer reporting discoveries, maps, and other information to USFS, since all you will do is close sites. Researcher like myself will now work on private sites, and your agency will be hard pressed to get them back after your treatment of us. But then I guess you don’t give a damn about the cultural and historic resources in caves. It appears bats are your ONLY concern with caves, which is an incredibly myopic view.

Many cavers are even talking about privatizing public lands. I can not imagine anything you could do which would discredit your agency more among the caving public and researchers.

Joseph C. Douglas, Ph.D.
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Re: Monongahela Nat'l Forest Continues Closures

Postby hewhocaves » Jul 8, 2013 11:03 am

FYI After considerable thought this is the letter I sent as chair of the Mon Grotto and as part of WVUs Geology Dept

As Chairperson of the Monongahela Grotto (Mon Grotto) of the National Speleological Society and part of the Geology Department at West Virginia University. I am writing to express my concern over the continued closure of the caves inside the Monongahela National Forest (MNF). As a caver and a geologist I believe this continued closure is both unwarranted and unwise.

Unwarranted because at this point White Nose Syndrome (WNS) has spread so extensively throughout the region that every cave is infected. It is impossible to further spread the fungus beyond what the bats have already done. In the past few years our understanding of bats has increased tremendously. For example, we know now that bats do not migrate solely between one summer roost and one hibernaculum. Rather, they rotate among several roosts and hibernacula, intermingling with as many other bats as possible. Genetically, this makes a lot of sense as it gives bats the largest possible diversity. Unfortunately, it also means the spread of WNS is accelerated.

Unwise because, as has been demonstrated in the MNF and other Federal lands to the south the only thing that cave closures do is keep responsible cavers out. Responsible cavers are the primary caretakers of caves. They are the people who most frequently conserve, educate, study and map caves.

But what does that mean?

Conserve means that cavers are the ones most frequently involved in clean­ups, gating, restoration and trail marking. Without cavers, we have seen caves like Bowden Cave in West Virginia become filled with trash and graffiti. Trash alters the ecological balance inside a cave and introduces harmful chemicals into the environment. Graffiti defaces the rock face and can be exceptionally difficult to remove. Gating requires thoughtful construction so that human access is controlled while animals can move freely in and out. Gates also require regular maintenance and repair. Restoration is the repair of speleothems and the act of returning the cave to its natural environment. Trail marking is preventative restoration and is very common among cavers today. As on the surface, trail marking preserves areas of special geological, biological and cultural interest.

Educate means that cavers are at the forefront of communicating the unique underground environment to the public. This takes many forms. Cavers lead the public on cave trips, give interviews, make presentations and for those interested, accept new members into their ranks. As an organization dependent in the goodwill of landowners both public and private, cavers are an essential conduit to help understand what the average individual thinks.

Studying caves means that cavers constitute a large percentage of the individuals performing geologic, hydrological, biological and anthropological studies of caves. When cavers are not the primary party performing the study they are the 'expert' providing practical guidance to non­cavers. As the resident caver in the Geology Department at WVU I have been involved in at least a half dozen studies that were cave or karst related in the past five years. Many of these studies would have been better served if the field work were done in a cave in the MNF. The Geology Department looks forward to the day when it can resume its partnership of scientific research with the MNF.

Lastly, mapping caves means both the mapping of cave passages and the georeferencing of cave entrances.Within West Virginia such information is stored within a central repository to provide a comprehensive picture of cave development throughout the state. In the past this information has been shared freely with the MNF; a process which has greatly increased the breadth and depth of your knowledge of caves in the MNF. The Caves of Tucker County Bulletin, in particular, is a product of the Mon Grotto, which I represent and a title of which we are very proud.

If the MNF had to pay for these services, either internally or externally, the cost would be tens of thousands of dollars for just one cave. The Mon forest has many caves. It is not financially feasible for the Forest Service to take on these costs. Fortunately, the caving community and and the Mon Grotto continues to stand ready to assist in a volunteer capacity. We only ask that we be given the opportunity to continue to be of service to the Forest. We do not advocate a blanket opening of caves at this time.

We feel that a targeted opening of specific caves is the most appropriate management strategy. Each cave is its own ecosystem and must be considered independently. If we provide a set of access tiers from 'completely open’ to ‘completely closed’ and assign a tier to each cave we should be able to come up with a strategy that reduces micromanagement to a non­onerous level and provide the kind of the targeted protection that this situation truly requires.

Thank you for your time and attention.

John Tudek
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Re: Monongahela Nat'l Forest Continues Closures

Postby Cheryl Jones » Jul 8, 2013 7:28 pm

:clap: :wtg:

Thanks!

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Re: Monongahela Nat'l Forest Continues Closures

Postby tncaver » Jul 8, 2013 7:44 pm

Thank you to Joe Douglas and John Tudek for expressing the facts and your opinions to the powers that be. If more people (cavers and citizens) were to
express themselves to the person's in charge, perhaps things would improve. Sometimes it requires a high number of individuals to make a difference.
Lets face it, government is not responsive to common sense, it is responsive to money and to the opinion of large numbers of the public.
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Re: Monongahela Nat'l Forest Continues Closures

Postby ohiocaver » Jul 10, 2013 3:14 pm

Have NSS, BCI and other groups recently sent notes to the Monongahela similar to those Joe sent?
Perhaps the strategy should be to bypass the bureaucrats in the Forest Service and make a case to the local Chambers of Commerce, WV Oil Marketers Assn (gas station owners), political leaders, restaurant and motel associations, and similar organizations pointing out how much revenue their businesses and communities are losing by having the USFS shut out a sizable bunch of recreation people. Note, too, that the US Government National Park Service has not closed its own caves and makes money on a daily basis. In addition, we're not taking rafting trips, etc. since we are shut out of Wild, Wonderful West Virginia.
Does anyone have a figure on how much money a Convention, OTR, or even weekend outing by a Grotto from NY, NJ, VA, Ohio, etc. spends in the local community?
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Re: Monongahela Nat'l Forest Continues Closures

Postby PYoungbaer » Jul 14, 2013 3:47 pm

The USFS did its own study, by Neil Christensen and Cynthia Sandeno, on the economic impact of cave closures in Monongahela NF. We posted the study on the NSS' WNS website last year, and it can be found here: http://www.caves.org/WNS/Caves_and_WNS_social_economic_final.pdf

John Tudek - This is exactly the response and leadership that is needed. You are totally correct: none of the federal agencies has the ability to manage its cave and karst resources as they properly should be without expert assistance. With federal budget pressures continuing to make research and management resources even smaller, it provides a major opportunity for the NSS, Speleological Surveys, CRF, regions and grottos to step up as partners.

The formal legal framework is already there for the U.S. Forest Service and other federal agencies through the Memoranda of Understanding between the NSS and the agencies. It's up to us to push to make those living and breathing documents. That effort paid off in generations past, and will stand the NSS and our membership well for many years to come if we continue to provide that expertise, leadership, and resource.

And yes, the NSS, through the VAR, has sent formal communications to Monongahela and Jefferson National Forest, for that matter, but they did not follow through with any public input, despite communication they would, and apparently taking no note of their own funded study. The word that came to me was that the Forest Unit was afraid of being sued by the Center for Biological Diversity. If that's the case, then this is not appropriate management of public resources.
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Re: Monongahela Nat'l Forest Continues Closures

Postby Extremeophile » Jul 15, 2013 11:29 am

hewhocaves wrote:We feel that a targeted opening of specific caves is the most appropriate management strategy.

Excellent letter John :clap:
Hopefully the MNF will listen to reason and logic and change the policy such that it benefits the FS, cavers, and bats.
Perhaps it's due to your very complete and well maintained database, but one difference in the approach we're advocating here in the West is to move to a system of targeted closures, rather than targeted openings (as the alternative to a blanket closure). We also have fewer and less populous bat colonies here, but we are trying to get caves open by default with seasonal closures of important bat caves. This requires that we develop clear definitions of what constitutes a "biologically important" site. We're trying to use a combination of species type, population, and activity (e.g. hibernation, maternity, etc.) to classify the importance to bats of specific caves.
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Re: Monongahela Nat'l Forest Continues Closures

Postby PYoungbaer » Jul 15, 2013 12:24 pm

Dear Extremeophile and tncaver,

While I'm sure that local nuances will drive any agreement/management plan, I trend toward the Region 2 approach of targeted closures, vs targeted openings. The whole purpose of the initial closings was to attempt to prevent WNS from spreading. That did not work, as the bats ignored the closure orders. So, one must ask what is the purpose of closures now? In Monongahela, as in most of the Northeast, where WNS has marched through, the point of any closures seems to be limited to protection of survivors and habitat for survivors in order to give those bats the best chance to overwinter and propogate to regrow the colonies. Seasonal closures of caves regularly used by bats makes sense; more rigorous closure strategies for particularly significant and prioritized sites does, too.

I think you're both headed toward the same place in practice, but I still prefer the approach of targeted closures. No matter which approach is taken, informing the decisions by comprehensive data will ground them in science and make them defensible.

I hope we can keep the pressure on and provide Monongahela's manager what is needed to amend the current order.
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Re: Monongahela Nat'l Forest Continues Closures

Postby ohiocaver » Jul 19, 2013 8:44 pm

Thanks for the link to the Christensen study. If we accept their mid-level of expenditures ($229.79 per day total on gas, food, occasional lodging and misc) and multiply it by their higher-range number of caver visits per year to the MNF (10,000), we come up with $2.3 million dollars spent by cavers. That's hardly chicken feed. If the average service job pays between $20,000 and $25,000 a year ($23K is a convenient number for dividing by $2.3 million), that represents the equivalent of 100 jobs in just a few rural counties, not the 10-12 jobs they indicate. I can't see too many West Virginians blowing off the value of 100 jobs. Maybe I'm mis-interpereting their math?
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Re: Monongahela Nat'l Forest Continues Closures

Postby ohiocaver » Aug 19, 2013 5:36 pm

While beating this dead horse, it would seem that this study -- either accidentally or deliberately -- did not include any sort of multiplier effect for the jobs created by caver dollars. Typically, one would expect a multiplier effect of 2 to 4 additional jobs for each job created (the factor would be much higher if the jobs were in a high-skill field; I'm assuming all of the jobs cavers create in food service or gas stations are not high-skill jobs). I still have my reservations about the Chirstensen study as proving anything but what the sponsors wanted to prove: ie, cave closures are not all that bad for the local economy.
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Re: Monongahela Nat'l Forest Continues Closures

Postby hewhocaves » Sep 3, 2013 2:53 pm

lol I should check this thread more often.. i'm just now catching up on it. Ahh. the joys of grad school :tonguecheek:
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