WNS in Mammoth Cave

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WNS in Mammoth Cave

Postby ohiocaver » Feb 27, 2014 8:22 am

In USA Today on 2/26/14: "The National Park Service said...white-nose syndrome has been discovered in passageways of Mammoth Cave that are open to park visitors. Park spokeswoman Vickie Carson told The Courier-Journal there are no plans to change the way the park operates its tours or research." :yikes:
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Re: WNS in Mammoth Cave

Postby Extremeophile » Feb 27, 2014 1:12 pm

ohiocaver wrote:In USA Today on 2/26/14: "The National Park Service said...white-nose syndrome has been discovered in passageways of Mammoth Cave that are open to park visitors. Park spokeswoman Vickie Carson told The Courier-Journal there are no plans to change the way the park operates its tours or research." :yikes:

I'm not sure if your :yikes: is in reference to the discovery of WNS in the Park, or the Park's policy. WNS has been known to be in the Park for some time, so discovery in Mammoth Cave itself is not surprising. There has been a WNS response plan in place for many years designed to limit the potential of spreading it to or from the Park. Many of the policies in the plan assumed that the disease was already present and undetected, so it should be no surprise that the latest media report doesn't trigger any new knee-jerk reactions.

I sometimes fail to understand the reaction of many cavers to news like this. Visitation is still allowed, which is a recognition that this is a bat spread disease, and human activities have little to no impact. It is true that there are inconsistent cave access policies between the USFWS, USFS, BLM, NPS, various state park systems, and other public lands. Do we want Mammoth Cave to close in order to be consistent with the eastern regions of the USFS, or do we want it to remain open as an example to the FS of a more balanced management approach? The cynics may believe the only reason it is being kept open is due to the revenue collected, but regardless, keeping it open is the right policy. Keeping public caves open that do not generate revenue, and are not significant bat caves, should also be standard policy. Cavers should support the decisions being made at Mammoth Cave, Carlsbad Cavern, Wind Cave, Jewel Cave, and other NPS caves rather than criticizing.
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Re: WNS in Mammoth Cave

Postby wyandottecaver » Feb 27, 2014 9:50 pm

No, this is no surprise. It's also not worthy of our praise or support. Some agencies have acted with at least an effort at fact based policy. Some, including the NPS have not. Mammoth has, is, and will remain open because of money. period. Had WNS been shown to be carried by people easily and repeatedly, I doubt you would see Mammoth closed until well after it was far far too late.

supporting hypocrisy is hypocrisy. Well before rational minded cavers and scientists could point to evidence that humans were not a significant factor, commercial caves both public and private were left open. Early in the disease we did NOT know humans were not a big factor...and they still were open while "free" caves across broad ranges were administratively closed.

Now we do know that humans are not a big threat, and still we see policies that say "free caves closed" "money caves open". And we should applaud them?

The simple fact is that we should be shaming the shameful and praising the praiseworthy. Let's support fact based policy and those who make it....instead of dropping grateful praise that bad policy has bred bad decisions that (rarely) intersect with our own interests.
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Re: WNS in Mammoth Cave

Postby Extremeophile » Feb 27, 2014 11:38 pm

wyandottecaver wrote:Some agencies have acted with at least an effort at fact based policy. Some, including the NPS have not. Mammoth has, is, and will remain open because of money. period.

Your opinion... an ill-informed one.

supporting hypocrisy is hypocrisy

Not really sure what this means. Is it hypocrisy to close caves or leave them open? I support keeping them open at the expense of being called names by other cavers.

Well before rational minded cavers and scientists could point to evidence that humans were not a significant factor, commercial caves both public and private were left open. Early in the disease we did NOT know humans were not a big factor...and they still were open while "free" caves across broad ranges were administratively closed.

I wasn't caving at that time. I'm sure there were difficult decisions to be made without much information. I'm more concerned about the present and future of cave access than about the past.

Now we do know that humans are not a big threat, and still we see policies that say "free caves closed" "money caves open". And we should applaud them?

"Them" refers to a lot of different land managers, and as I stated some are doing better than others. So yes, policies that keep caves open, or reopen caves should be encouraged.

The simple fact is that we should be shaming the shameful and praising the praiseworthy.

So who would you praise? I'm not sure I've seen you support anything or anyone. You're critical of the NPS for leaving the caves open, and I'm sure you'd be critical if they suddenly decided to close them. There's no pleasing some people.

Let's support fact based policy and those who make it....

Yes, let's do that.
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Re: WNS in Mammoth Cave

Postby PeterFJohnson » Feb 28, 2014 12:33 pm

wyandottecaver wrote:Mammoth has, is, and will remain open because of money. period.


What money? Doesn't the park operate at a loss? While I agree that the government is inconsistent with regards to closures I don't see any evidence that money is the cause of this inconsistency. Politics, maybe. Bureaucratic inertia, maybe. The fact that "the government" is actually a collection of independent agencies/people and not some Mustapha Mond Cave Controller. Perhaps. But money? I don't see facts to support that.
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Re: WNS in Mammoth Cave

Postby wyandottecaver » Feb 28, 2014 9:28 pm

Peter,
money, more exactly, whether a entrance fee is charged, is the most predictable and in many cases only distinction between caves left open by government managers, and those that aren't. Certainly there are many reasons why caves have been closed, but if a cave charges an entrance fee and is located on federal property, chances are it has never closed.

Extremophile,
Based on earlier posts you seem well educated and knowledgeable on biological and WNS matters, so I would be curious and grateful to know what information I need to be better informed?

In what way is mammoth cave, a indiana bat hibernacula, and visited by thousands upon thousands of humans from across the world (thousands upon thousands from around the world who might now be spreading it globally according to USFS stated policy), judged by facts (then and now) to be left open to visitation while other caves within the Park's boundaries and on other NPS properties with previously open caves like Great Smokey Mountains NP with no endangered bat hibernacula or major hibernacula at all, and only a fraction of the visitation.... to be closed, except for money or worse, hypocritical standards based on money? True, NPS does not make a "profit" on the cave, though the revenue they do generate is not small. The revenue they generate for the vendors, contractors, and local economy is even more profound.

Not saying considering economic impacts is bad, indeed it should be a consideration. But does it outweigh the considerations that closed the caves around it? Does it make biological sense? Is there any evidence that if mammoth was not commercialized it would have been left open to visitation during WNS when so many others have not?

It is hypocrisy to say an agency is making good decisions or to praise them for what we see as a good outcome, when in fact the decisions are ill informed and based on a hypocritical standard. Just because the outcome in a few instances intersects our desire doesnt make the decision tree that drove them viable.

The them in this case is NPS. We agree that some managers have done better than others, but the "better" in my case refers to those who try policies that keep caves open or closed.. based on sound reasoning and should be encouraged. Managers (including NPS) who pursue policies that are not based on sound reasoning should be opposed regardless of the local outcome.

The USFS has in many places across the country worked to implement common sense solutions, as have certain States. I am critical of the NPS because of how they decided (and continue to), not just what they decided because of it.
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Re: WNS in Mammoth Cave

Postby Extremeophile » Mar 1, 2014 1:28 am

So you think all of Mammoth Cave should be closed? Some portions are already closed for bat protection, but to close the entire 400 mile system seems like overkill. I assumed cavers would support keeping the less sensitive areas of the system open, with reasonable precautions, but obviously not everyone supports such a policy.

As for being ill informed, I'm certainly not privy to every bit of information that goes into the policy making at each NPS unit, but I know enough to be certain the caves aren't being left "open for money, period". Such an assertion clearly lacks understanding.
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Re: WNS in Mammoth Cave

Postby PYoungbaer » Mar 1, 2014 9:57 am

Oh, boy. I get to register a personal opinion now, rather than an "official" one.

First, what surprises me about this announcement is that we haven't seen an immediate call by a certain overly-zealous organization for the immediate shut down of Mammoth and all other federally-owned caves in the country, as they called for years ago, and have continued to call for in the West. Are they asleep? Can't they figure out what to do? OK, enough of that.

I'm not surprised Mammoth has decided to keep the cave open. As Extremophile says, Mammoth has had a WNS plan in place for years now, and has been following it, so I am not surprised.

Wyandottecaver's assertion that their decision is money-based has some truth to it, but that's certainly not the entire reasoning. That said, I beileve Wyandottecaver is pointing out that in many instances with both federal and state agencies, all caves were closed in their jurisdiction EXCEPT the one giving tours and generating revenue. Look at Illinois, Iowa, and others for examples. And then there are the show caves. Wyandottecaver's point that if the decisions were biology-based, then the closures for many would have been the closures for all. It was hypocrisy, no question, and someone had to say the emperor was naked.

As I pointed out in the NSS response to CBD early on, closing Mammoth or Carlsbad would have a huge economic impact on their regions, and do little or nothing to contain the disease. We (the NSS) opposed that approach on both scientific and economic reasons.

Extremeophile is correct to point out the policies have varied by land managers. This has been true both agency-wide (as different federal agencies have different statutory missions), as well as regional and even local variations.

I also agree that looking in the past is generally not productive. However, we're still living with some of those past decisions, such as blanket closures by several of the U.S. Forest Service regions, or continued blanket closures by separate FS units where WNS saturation makes preventive closures entirely pointless, and surrounding private and state policies are totally different (Monongahela NF is one example). Looking forward with decisions driven by known science, but also common sense, is what's needed.

Kudos again to Extemeophile and others in the Colorado region for their work with the Forest Service, BLM, and state officials on a more flexible approach. Contrast that with the Forest Service Southeast Region, where the blanket closure order was extended. Still, even there, the regional TES (Threatened and Endangered Species) coordinator says he will accept permit requests. I just haven't seen any cavers interested in taking them up on it. That's probably due to the vast availability of caves on private land in the East, as opposed to the predominance of government-owned land in the West, but whatever - the invitation stands.

That said, areas like Arkansas, Kentucky, and Missouri, seem to be hot WNS regions this winter. I expect more of that. I also expect that no closure policy will do anything to change what the bats will do to themselves, but I doubt we'll change those local policies in those WNS-hot areas at this time.

The lead federal agency on WNS has been and continues to be the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Other than the National Wildlife Refuge system (and Fern Cave), they are not land managers. I am thankful for that, as their statutory mission is entirely biologically driven. They have no language guiding them to give the public access to and enjoyment of their resources - read caves - unlike the other agencies, which must balance various aspects of their mission statements.

USFWS is the author of the original cave advisory. It remains unchanged and out of date since its original distribution. They have been working on an update for years now. Indeed, I presented the NSS position on a draft back at the 2012 Madison WNS Symposium, as did others. The agency is using some convoluted, bureaucratic "structured decision-making" process that is about the most inefficient and undemocratic thing I have ever witnessed. It's an egregious waste of taxpayer money. I'm sure it pays the consultants they hire well, but serves them poorly. It's simply out of touch.

During the past year, they circulated (privately) another new "draft" to stakeholders. It's even more out of touch. Jennifer Foote, the new WNS Liaison for the NSS is on that Stakeholder Committee, and can share her perspective. All I can say is that if anything like the draft is issued, it will be roundly ignored. I'm sure it'll be issued with all the fanfare their publicity arm can muster, will be well-covered by the media, and will purport to be "national guidance" for the combined federal agency effort. Big whoop. As with the previous advisory, it is just that - advisory. Even the decon protocols took forever to get out, because there was no unanimity among the federal agencies. They were issued with caveats that local agencies could (and did) alter them. Yeah, so watch for that to be issued sometime - this year? next year? Who the hell knows, or frankly, cares.

By the way, just FYI, official National Park Service policy is that all caves on their lands are, and have always been closed. This is pre-WNS, and is their default position. To the extent they open caves (park tour caves like Mammoth, show caves within the parks, or wild caves) they are done with permits (edit: a ticket is a defacto permit). Might be simply a back-country permit, such as in Carlsbad NP, or something more specific. All depends on the cave. So, it was curious, for example, that when Great Smokey Mountains NP announced the closing of caves within that park, most cavers already knew they were closed. Any trips into them were already by permit only.

So, yes, Mammoth now has WNS. The park remains open. Tourists are educated about bats and WNS - that's a good thing - and, of course, about the cave itself. That's a great thing. Caves are wonderful things, as we know, and Mammoth is particularly so. They are told about decon and helping not to spread the disease, or not to disturb hibernating bats. That's a good thing. Then they have to walk on a bio mat to clean their shoes. That doesn't work or count as effective disinfection. The best that can be said for that is that it is a partial cleaning, which is, I suppose, better than no cleaning, but it is NOT disinfection. Does it help heighten awareness? Sure.

I also think that it instructs the public that cave visitation is possible, even with WNS present. That's actually an added bonus for cavers, as it helps build a public knowledge environment that caving doesn't have to be shut down. So, absolutely, keep Mammoth open. There is nothing to be gained by closing it, and everything to be gained by keeping it open.
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Re: WNS in Mammoth Cave

Postby bigredfoote » Mar 6, 2014 1:25 pm

USFWS and partner government agencies are still re-considering the scope of the cave advisory, which also means it is too early to comment on the direction the document is going. Sorry I don't have more to say.

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Re: WNS in Mammoth Cave

Postby caver.adam » Mar 6, 2014 3:47 pm

Consider an underfunded department trying to make a decision about the 2000+ caves in Kentucky. The powers that be don't have the manpower to review each of the caves, even if they had accurate descriptions of the caves to make a decision from (which they don't). Nor do most of the decision makers have an ability to really get 100% reliable results from scientists studying WNS. In these cases it is easiest for them to simply close the caves that most people don't care about. This means that, no matter how the disease is spread, they haven't made things worse. Was it hypocracy to keep tour caves open? Who cares, what is important is what the science today is telling us to do going forward. Are they following the most recent guidance? That's what I want to know.
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Re: WNS in Mammoth Cave

Postby wyandottecaver » Mar 13, 2014 8:57 pm

Caver Adam,

In my opinion no, they aren't using the best data and in fact, I will go so far as to say they are marginalizing anything that doesn't agree with the "party line".

Consider that most cavers (and everyone else) simply don't have most information available about WNS and therefore would tend to follow the guidelines and advice of those who do have it...namely the USFWS, other Agencies, and the NSS.

Fortunately or unfortunately the credibility of those agencies largely affects whether ANY of their advice is heeded by John Q Public, or how willing that public is to help them, especially cavers.

In my opinion, not only has the USFWS ruined it's credibility as a resource agency, it has effectively trashed decades of work in building relationships. As a biologist and caver who has frequently shared data and time in the past, I assure you I won't tell the USFWS about a gopher hole anymore, let alone anything they think might have a had a bat use it for 5 minutes in the last 5000 years.
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Re: WNS in Mammoth Cave

Postby bigredfoote » Mar 15, 2014 1:02 am

Wyandottecaver might be right on some points, but we need a way forward, not a government shutdown.

There is a huge need for experienced cavers to help out local agencies. In general, most cavers believe cave (and bat) conservation is one of the top things to consider while caving (#1- your safety (because your rescue will damage the cave and cause paperwork), #2 cave environment, #3 project goals/recreational goals). We want to save the bats AND the places they live. Even if humans can't save the bats, we should document and learn from tragedy.

USFWS mission is only wildlife. That's why they have partners or lawsuits to remind them that the habitat may have other values.

No matter what anyone feels about the national policy, state agencies are the ones out in the field (usually with no federal funding and reduced state funding) trying to collect the bat data. I have been to the national WNS meetings and specifically been impressed by how Kentucky agency staff explained to other states how much they need and appreciate cavers and that other states should try to encourage positive relationships with cavers because they will need cavers to help get the data before the bats are gone. I've also seen active outreach for good relationships from biologists out west where they know they have no data, and cavers are their only "citizen scientists". Ranchers in Montana are not likely to notice bats on their lawn like a homeowner in Vermont, our bats and people are dispersed differently, cavers are the most likely group to notice something about bats. I don't think this is a "pay to play" situation, I think cavers want to take care of where we play and will also fight for our right to be underground.

There are lots of biologists out there looking at the science and managers making local decisions on their own, real people who share our conservation goals and are sometimes even fighting to let the public recreate if they can make a case towards management.

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Re: WNS in Mammoth Cave

Postby tncaver » Mar 15, 2014 8:03 pm

Government doesn't seem to understand that BATS are spreading WNS. Fact is, caves that are closed to cavers are still going to get WNS. So why should cavers tell government where bat caves are so the government can close them down and prevent anyone from going in to them?
Permits are a hassle to acquire and/or in many cases impossible to acquire. If cavers can't go in caves they can not monitor WNS or detect its existence.

If government wants to know where bat caves are then they will need to have a procedure in place that will CURE bats FIRST. Otherwise, what is the point in letting government know where bat caves are so they can harass private land owners, and/or close caves? All government cares about is CONTROL. Fact is GOVERNMENT IS OUT OF CONTROL. Government is not curing WNS. When they can cure WNS I "might" tell them where some big colonies are. Until there is a cure for WNS, I don't want government to know where any new caves or bat colonies are.
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