By Richard Rhinehart ~ August 25th, 2010. Filed under: Caving News, Conservation.
Breaking from the blanket closure policies of the United States Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management Renewable Resources and Planning Office in Washington has directed state offices to take the lead in determining if targeted cave and non-active mine closures are advantageous to protecting bats from the spread of the Geomyces destructans pathogen.
The August 19 Instruction Memorandum from Bud Cribley, the Deputy Assistant Director of Renewable Resources and Planning, provides direction to each of the state offices of the Bureau in handling protection of bats from the pathogen. First discovered in New York state in 2006, the pathogen has spread through the eastern seaboard states, and bats carrying the fungus have been found as far west as Missouri and Oklahoma.
Though political action groups like the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity have called repeatedly for closure of all caves and inactive mines on public lands in the United States, the BLM decided a more enforceable policy was in the best interest of the bats and the people of the nation. The Instruction Memorandum and White Nose Syndrome Interim Response Strategy provide the first national policy for the Bureau, which manages more than 245 million acres of public land, mostly in 12 western states.
The Bureauâ€™s response strategy includes working closely with cavers and other outdoor users to identify important caves and inactive mines containing significant colonies of bats. Since late July 2010, BLM representatives have met with members of the 11,000-member National Speleological Society and other local cave exploration groups in Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico. In each of these meetings, Bureau officials have stressed their desire to work with cavers rather than alienate them through blanket closures. Officials recognize that cavers know more about the caves on BLM lands than do the land managers, and so cooperation through open communication and assistance in identifying caves and mines containing bats will lead to better management when the pathogen arrives in the Rocky Mountain region.
Decontamination of cavers and their equipment is a critical component to the success of the strategy, particularly if the cavers are travelling between caves in the region or from caves outside the region. US Fish and Wildlife has created an intensive cleaning procedure that will help keep Rocky Mountain caves clear of the fungus.
In the directive, Bureau officials are encouraged to continue work with interagency and interdiscipline groups like those in Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming. Such groups, including BLM, National Park Service, US Forest Service, state wildlife agencies, bat biologists, and cavers, will determine state response plans and actions for protecting bats.
When and if the Geomyces destructans pathogen arrives in the region, the State Directors will determine which, if any, caves and non-active mines will be closed on a targeted basis. These caves and mines with important bat features will be determined through cooperation and consultation with other agencies and groups, so that closure orders will be effective and supported by the public.
The targeted closure plan was criticized by the Center for Biological Diversity in an August 23 press release. The Centerâ€™s Mollie Matteson states that â€śIf the BLM is serious about protecting bats, then it needs to restrict access in all caves with bats.â€ť Matteson reports â€śthis devastating disease simply will not allow the luxury of half measures.â€ť
Despite the criticism, the BLMâ€™s Director Bud Abbey recognizes the need to work with cavers and the public. â€śWorking together with stakeholders and our agency partners, we hope to be able to prevent or contain the spread of this devastating disease.â€ť As such, the agency will regularly assess the policy and make changes as circumstances dictate by scientific study and observation.
Over one million bats in the northeastern United States and Canada have died from White Nose Syndrome. In many instances, 95 to 100 percent of eastern bat colonies have died from the fungus infection. Scientific researchers estimate that for some bat species, regional extinction is possible within the next 16 to 20 years.Tags: bats, Bureau of Land Management, cave, cave closures, Colorado, management, White Nose Syndrome, Wyoming