Colorado Cave Survey Responds to USFS Call for Comments



By Richard Rhinehart ~ December 21st, 2012. Filed under: Cave Survey, Caving News, Conservation.

By Richard Rhinehart

Denver, Colorado, December 21, 2012 – In a letter submitted today to the USDA Forest Service regional office in Lakewood, Colorado, the Colorado Cave Survey of the National Speleological Society calls upon the federal agency to open public caves to visitation, focus White Nose Syndrome management efforts to biologically-important caves, hire a regional cave specialist and to work cooperatively with the National Speleological Society in future cave management and policy decisions.

Cave Survey Chair Derek Bristol of Littleton, Colorado submitted the letter in response to a public call for comments by the Forest Service regarding potential actions regarding management of caves and inactive mines in the five state Rocky Mountain Region. In response to the potential spread of the Geomyces destructans pathogen that creates the deadly White Nose Syndrome among selected hibernating bat species, the regional office in Lakewood closed all public Forest Service caves and inactive mines in Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, most of Wyoming, and the Black Hills of South Dakota on an emergency basis in late July, 2010. Following emergency one-year renewals of the closure in July 2011 and August 2012, the regional office announced in early November that the agency was seeking a longer-term management plan and policies for 2013 and beyond.

Hubbard's Cave

Popular Hubbard's Cave, in Glenwood Canyon east of Glenwood Springs, Colorado, has been closed to visitors since late July 2010. Photograph by Richard Rhinehart, copyright 2005.

The Colorado Cave Survey, an internal organization of the non-profit National Speleological Society, has had a long relationship with the Forest Service, dating back to 1969. Until the 2010 closure of caves on Forest lands in Colorado, the Survey actively managed access to the state’s longest known cave, the 12-mile-long Groaning Cave near Glenwood Springs. In addition, the Survey also provided recommendations and management assistance to the region’s Forests for three decades. Since the implementation of the Closure Order, relations between the Survey and the Forest Service have been much cooler, even following a relaxing of the closure in August 2012. Since August, members of the Society have been allowed to apply with the Forest Service for access to selected public caves during an April through October season.

Writing on behalf of the Survey, Bristol appeals to the Forest Service to open caves on their lands that have no bats, since it is still unproven that humans can effectively transmit the spores for the fungus that has infected and killed millions of bats in the eastern United States. Despite more than two years of research since the original closure order in July 2010, knowledgeable scientists still disagree as to whether humans were responsible for the fast spread of the disease from 2007 through 2009, or if bats were the primary vector.

Bristol also encourages the Forest Service to concentrate their scientific efforts on caves and abandoned mines in the region that harbor the majority of known bats. Throughout the region, studies indicate that bats favor particular sites for roosting, hibernation and the little-understood fall “swarming.” Caves without bats should not be treated the same as caves known to have bats.

In opening caves to public visitation, Bristol recommends that the agency continue to require decontamination of visitor gear and clothing, particularly when the visitor has been outside the region. Many of the cave areas in the Rocky Mountain Region are geographically separate, so proper decontamination should be sufficient to keep caves clear of the pathogen, if humans are a valid vector for transmission of the spores.

Raven Cave

Caves on Bureau of Land Management lands, such as Raven Cave near Grand Junction, and private caves remain open for visitors. Photograph by Richard Rhinehart, copyright 2005.

Bristol encourages the Forest Service to rebuild relationships with their partners in the caving community, reaching out to cavers and bringing them into meaningful management discussions and planning. In Colorado and the Black Hills particularly, for 30 years the USFS maintained exceptional relations with cavers and cave organizations, resulting in tens of thousands of hours of volunteer assistance and savings in expenditures. In addition, Bristol suggests the region hire a designated cave specialist to handle cave issues and work with outside organizations in management and policy. He notes that other federal agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service, as well as other regions of the Forest Service, have successfully brought in knowledgeable specialists to manage the caves in a region or unit.

The Lakewood office of the Forest Service accepted comments through December 21 for potential changes and adjustments to the current cave closure policy. The current policy expires in early August, 2013, and federal officials are hopeful of devising a new cave management policy before this expiration. Public hearings throughout the region may be forthcoming in the first two quarters of 2013.

 

Full Text of the Colorado Cave Survey Response to the Forest Service

USFS Region 2 Cave Management Environmental Assessment

Trey Schillie
USDA Forest Service
740 Simms Street
Golden, CO 80401

Dear Mr. Schillie:

I’m writing on behalf of the Colorado caving community to comment on the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Environmental Assessment that is being prepared for the management of caves and abandoned mines in the USDA Forest Service – Rocky Mountain Region in response to the threat of white nose syndrome (WNS).

Purpose and Need

While WNS is certainly a devastating disease with significant and irreversible ecological and economic impact, the mechanisms for the spread of the disease are still not fully understood. The observations and scientific studies conducted over the past seven years, since the disease was first identified, clearly show that bat to bat interaction is the primary vector for its spread. Management policies to date have focused on the theoretical and minor risk of human transmission. There is very little the USFS can do to limit the natural spread of the disease, and Draconian policies such as the blanket cave closure orders have likely caused more harm than good by limiting the collection of baseline data and disenfranchising cavers. In your scoping letter you state the purpose and need as “to reduce the potential for human introduction, spread, and impacts of the fungus Geomyces destructans, and the bat disease commonly known as white-nose syndrome (WNS) by providing management options for caves and abandoned mines”. This addresses only a small part of what should be done as part of an adaptive management plan. Given the fact that the disease is widespread in eastern North America, and limiting bat to bat transmission is not practical, management plans should focus on minimizing the impacts of the disease once it arrives and consider steps to increase the survivability and recovery of affected bat populations. Scientific study and baseline data collection need to be accelerated and recovery plans need to be developed. With the limited resources available within the USFS, it is critically important that the specific actions that follow from this purpose and need are developed in cooperation with the caving community and that any management policies are mutually beneficial to caves, cave life, and cavers.

Proposed Action

Below are a series of suggested actions that the USFS should take as part of an adaptive management plan.

1. Limit management policies to WNS disease mitigation. While caves and cave life are delicate and require protection, any management policies being considered in the current context need to be tied to limiting the impact of WNS. When the risk of human transmission of WNS abates, then access limitations need to be lifted.

2. Access policies should be based on the risk of human transmission. As our understanding of the potential for human transmission of the Geomyces destructans (Gd) fungus advances, policies need to adapt. There have been far too many access limitations and other actions based on propaganda or theoretical risks. Any policies need to balance benefits against negative impacts. There is a significant downside to limiting access to caves, and these factors have not been considered in the “emergency” policies of the past few years. Caves need to be managed for a multitude of purposes, and limiting the very small risk of human transmission of WNS should not completely outweigh the benefits of cave science, conservation, education, and recreation.

3. Involve the caving community in any future policy decisions. The National Speleological Society has a Memorandum of Understanding with the USFS (11-MU-11132424-018) in which there is agreement to cooperate on cave management issues. Also, one of the purposes of the Federal Cave Resources Protection Act of 1988 is to “foster increased cooperation and exchange of information between governmental authorities and those who utilize caves located on Federal lands for scientific, education, or recreational purposes”. These agreements and laws have not been honored in the issuing of emergency cave and mine closure orders in the Rocky Mountain Region and elsewhere. Developing future policies that are beneficial, effective, and widely adopted requires involving those who are most knowledgeable about the resource, i.e. cavers.

4. Focus WNS management on “biologically important” caves. Criteria have been proposed to qualify caves or mines as biologically important for bats based on type of use, species type, and population. Seasonal access restrictions and exemptions should be prioritized on this basis. There is no need to restrict access to non-bat sites, and there is an increased need to permit data collection and monitoring of important sites. Permits should only be a consideration when exemptions are needed to collect data in biologically important sites during sensitive times of the year, and the permit process should be streamlined.

5. Continue to require decontamination of gear before and after visiting caves and mines. The risk of human transmission of WNS through the transport of Gd spores on clothing and gear is extremely small, but this can be effectively reduced to zero through the use of decontamination procedures. This requirement should be continued until more is understood about the potential for human transmission. Local agencies should continue to set policy on the need for decontamination when visiting multiple sites within a limit geographical area.

6. Apply limited resources towards improving knowledge about bats. There is limited understanding about bat populations, distribution, habits and behaviors, habitat, and many other important factors that are critical in preparing for, detecting, and dealing with the arrival of WNS in the region. Government agencies need to be urgently collecting baseline data rather than worrying about enforcement of ineffective cave closure policies. Now is also the time to leverage volunteer labor in collecting this much needed data and this is only possible through cooperation.

7. Hire a “Cave Specialist”. There are more than 1,000 caves in Region 2 of the USFS and there is not one person with the knowledge, experience, or responsibility for effectively managing cave resources. Many other USFS, BLM, and NPS units with significant cave resources have specialists on staff to help make educated management decisions. A cave specialist could coordinate the needed field work to identify biologically important bat sites, collect and organize data, coordinate agency and volunteer efforts, collaborate with the caving community on effective cave access policy, identify resource protection needs, etc. Hiring a cave specialist would enable the region to much more effectively respond to the risk of WNS, and also deal with other ever-present cave resource management concerns.

8. Adaptive management triggers. In the scoping letter there are suggestions about the need for “triggers” that would invoke a change in management policy, such as when WNS is confirmed within a given radius of the region, or even within the region. The proximity of WNS confirmed sites to the Rocky Mountain region should have no effect on policy. Current and proposed policies are based on the risk of human transmission, not bat to bat transmission, so bat migration routes and foraging areas have very little meaning to the risk of human transport of Gd. Existing and proposed policies, including access restrictions and decontamination requirements, assume that the disease is already in the region and very easily transmitted by human activity (both very conservative assumptions). If anything, access policies and decontamination requirements can be loosened if the disease were to become widely confirmed across the region.

9. Disease mitigation. The EA scoping letter and other correspondence from the USFS Region 2 in the recent past have proposed ecological engineering options such as “fungicidal application” and “excluding bat access” though the sealing or netting of cave entrances. The caving community is strongly opposed to these ideas as they are likely to have much greater unintended negative consequences.

With this Environmental Assessment there is an opportunity to reverse some of the damage caused by the blanket cave closure policies of the past few years. There is still time to collect the data needed to understand and better prepare for the possible impacts of WNS on our region. It’s only through cooperation that these goals may be accomplished.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Derek Bristol
Chairman, Colorado Cave Survey

Forest Service Seeks Public Comments Regarding Colorado Cave Closure Order



By Richard Rhinehart ~ November 16th, 2012. Filed under: Caving News, Conservation.

BY RICHARD RHINEHART

Denver, Colo., November 16, 2012 – The US Forest Service regional office in Golden, Colorado is seeking comments from the public in their ongoing evaluation of the cave and abandoned mine closure policy for public caves in Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, most of South Dakota and most of Wyoming.

The current closure order, enacted in early August, 2012, continues the closure of natural caves and abandoned mines on Forest lands within Region 2. The original order, from July 2010, closed caves in concern that the Geomyces destructans pathogen could spread quickly to the region through contaminated human visitors. Continued testing of bats within the region has not established that the fungus has spread to the region. In August, 2012, the regional forester included an exemption to the closure that allows members of two private organizations, the National Speleological Society and the Cave Research Foundation, to apply for permitted access to these caves during the April 15 to October 15 period. Several cavers in Colorado successfully permitted trips to various Colorado caves during the August through October period.

Spring Cave Entrance

Spring Cave near Meeker, Colorado has long been a popular cave for visitors. The cave remains closed under the current closure order. Photograph by Richard Rhinehart, copyright 2005.

The US Forest Service announced on November 9 they were opening to public comment the current policy. In preparing an Environmental Assessment for future management options for caves and abandoned mines in Forests and Grasslands within the five state region, the USFS indicates they are seeking a more permanent plan for management.

Specifically, the Forest Service is interested in considering potential strategies and plans for managing access to these public lands, and what actions might be necessary should the spread of the fungus be discovered on bats within the region.

For instance, should all access be restricted to members of these two private organizations? Should decontamination be required for entry? What applications and permitting may be needed for visitors? Should caves be inventoried and monitored? Are there seasonal considerations? Should trigger points be established which dictate further federal action? As an example, if an infected bat is found within a particular radius of a mine or cave, which action, if any, should be taken?

Stephen Lenzo, the Line Officer Representative for Forest Supervisors, asks that written comments regarding these issues be submitted to him by mail, email, fax or hand delivered no later than December 21, 2012. Full information regarding submitting comments:

• Electronic comments can be emailed to wns@fs.fed.us.
• Comments can be mailed to Trey Schillie, USDA Forest Service, 740 Simms Street, Golden, CO 80401. Comments must be postmarked by December 21, 2012.
• Hand-delivered comments may also be submitted to the address above. Office hours are from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm, Monday through Friday, excluding holidays. Please call (303) 275-5067 if you wish to hand deliver a comment.
• Oral comments can also be submitted by calling (303) 275-5067.
• For facsimile, please use (303) 275-5134.

Fulford Cave Parking Area

The Fulford Cave parking area south of Eagle, Colorado was routinely filled with cave visitors prior to the 2010 closure order. Photograph by Richard Rhinehart, copyright 2010.

“I ask for your ideas and concerns to help define appropriate management options and thresholds, or triggers, during the public scoping and comment process,” said Lenzo. “These management tools may be implemented in whole, or in part, in specific management areas, or throughout multiple National Forests and Grasslands in the Rocky Mountain Region.”

The pathogen and the resulting White-nose Syndrome has not been identified in bats within the Forest’s Rocky Mountain Region. Scientists disagree whether the pathogen can be transmitted by humans from an infected cave or abandoned mine to another site, infecting bats as a result. Hibernating bats are most at risk from the pathogen – in the eastern United States, large colonies have become infected, with estimates ranging up to several million bat deaths in the last seven years.

In Colorado, Wyoming, and South Dakota the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service have not closed caves to visitation, though they request that visitors undertake decontamination as a precaution. Privately-owned and state-owned caves also have not been closed to public visitation. Commercial caves, both public and private, are also unaffected by the closure order.

USFS Colorado Cave Closure Order Allows Private Groups Access



By Richard Rhinehart ~ August 6th, 2012. Filed under: Cave Survey, Caving News, Conservation.

Denver, Colorado, August 1, 2012 – A new closure order of public caves in the Rocky Mountain Region by the Regional Forester of the U.S. Forest Service signed today in Golden, Colorado will allow exemptions for members of two private cave organizations.

Cavers from the National Spelelogical Society and Cave Research Foundation can again visit caves like Indian Cave on Colorado's White River Plateau. Photograph by Richard Rhinehart.

Although members of the general public continue to be excluded from entering any public cave on Forest Service lands in Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas, members of the Alabama-based National Speleological Society and the Kentucky-based Cave Research Foundation will be allowed to request permits to visit caves for research, scientific study, exploration and survey.

The closure order, the third issued by the regional office without public hearings, is considered an emergency, in response to the potential risk of the spread of the fungus that causes White Nose Syndrome in bats. In the eastern United States, millions of bats have died from the fungus infection, which is an irritant and wakes the bats during their winter hibernation. Bats in the Rocky Mountain Region are as yet not infected by the fungus, which is mostly spread by bat-to-bat contact. Some biologists suspect that human transmission of the fungus is possible. The fungus does not affect humans or other animals.

Colorado cavers have mixed feelings regarding the third year of the closure, although details of the new cave access and permitting system are yet to be determined. Derek Bristol, the Chairman of the Colorado Cave Survey, an internal organization of the National Speleological Society, has been in communication with the Forest Service during the planning of the new closure order.

“While these exemptions are an important step towards restoring legitimate access to public land, they continue to exclude a large number of responsible cavers who are not members of these private organizations,” said Bristol in regard to the new exemptions to the closure that will allow the two private organizations access to the caves. “This new closure order also unnecessarily continues the ban on access to non-bat caves during the winter months. The organized cave community is very concerned about the impact of White Nose Syndrome (WNS) on hibernating bat populations, and supports taking appropriate precautions such as decontaminating cave gear to prevent the very small possibility of human transmission of the disease. We also support targeted closures of significant bat caves and the active collection of baseline bat and bat habitat data before the disease arrives in the Rocky Mountain region. Caves are important and sensitive resources that need to be managed for a multitude of reasons beyond just bats. The blanket cave closure orders are an ineffective and unenforceable reaction to an unproven threat (human transmission of WNS) that inhibits bat research, WNS monitoring, cave science, survey and exploration, conservation and restoration, education, and responsible recreation.”

Other cavers are less willing to accept the continuation of the order, even though access will be permitted for members of the two organizations. In Colorado, there are less than 450 members of the National Speleological Society; Cave Research Foundation members in the state number less than ten. Other regional states have fewer members of these organizations. Estimates of visitors to Forest caves in Colorado prior to the July 2010 closure order range in the thousands, with popular caves like Fulford south of Eagle attracting dozens of casual visitors each weekend.

By adding the exemption for members of these organizations, the Forest Service believes they will encourage cavers to undertake scientific studies and inventory of public caves in exchange for access. No recreational cave visitation will be permitted. The Forest Service reports they can legally add an exemption to the closure policy since the agency has current Memorandums of Understanding with both organizations to conduct research on their lands.

Owing to budget limitations, the Forest does not have funding to aggressively pursue violators of the closure policy. Instead, they are asking the public to voluntarily stay away from caves for the duration of the closure.

Useful Links

>> USFS Region 2 White Nose Syndrome Page

>> Colorado Cave Survey

>> National Speleological Society

>> Cave Research Foundation

Permitted USFS Cave Trips Possible at July 2011 Glenwood Springs National Convention



By Richard Rhinehart ~ October 1st, 2010. Filed under: Cave Survey, Caving News, Conservation.

Cavers attending the 2011 National Speleological Society Convention in Glenwood Springs, Colorado may have the opportunity to visit caves in the White River National Forest after all.

Spring-Cave-Ladder

The White River National Forest's popular Spring Cave near Meeker could be reopened in 2011 through a permit program currently under consideration. (Richard Rhinehart photograph, copyright 2006.)

Although a region-wide closure of caves and non-active mines will remain in effect during the July 18-22, 2011 convention, foresters from the White River National Forest and USFS Region 2 in Golden, Colorado are working with the Colorado Cave Survey and the National Speleological Society in developing a special use permit system that will allow selected caves to be reopened for convention participants. The language of the July 27, 2010 blanket closure order by Deputy Regional Forester Tony Dixon allows for commercial groups and other special interest parties to gain access to Forest caves.

At a September 7 teleconference between the NSS, the Cave Survey, the White River National Forest and the USFS Region 2 office, representatives of the Society reported that at the organization’s 2010 convention in Burlington, Vermont, cavers visiting caves had to undertake White Nose Syndrome decontamination following their underground visits. In addition, the convention provided loaner gear for cavers from outside the region, so that they could leave their gear at home and not accidently transmit spores from the Geomyces destructans pathogen to other regions of the country. Such practices at the 2011 convention in Glenwood Springs could protect Colorado caves and bats from contamination.

It is also possible that such a permitting system might be adapted for visitation to caves within the national forests of Region 2. An online permitting system with instructions for decontamination of cave visitors would be a good plan for USFS caves throughout the Rocky Mountain Region. The Bureau of Land Management is considering a similar free permitting system, possibly to be administered through an online website. Such a permit process can keep track of visits to caves and also allow for cave visitors and the public to report any sightings of bats, increasing knowledge of bats within the region. If the pathogen arrives in Colorado and infects bats, it will be important for the public to report to bat biologists any unusual instances of bat behavior, such as bats flying in winter or in the daylight.

The Colorado Cave Survey will consider plans for a special use cave permit process for Forest caves at its October 2 meeting in Glenwood Springs.

BLM Rejects Blanket Cave Closures in Favor of Targeted Plan



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.

Raven Cave

The Bureau of Land Management manages hundreds of claystone caves in the western Colorado desert, including Raven Cave, south of Grand Junction. (Richard Rhinehart photograph, copyright 2006.)

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 Bureau’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 Center’s Mollie Matteson states that “If the BLM is serious about protecting bats, then it needs to restrict access in all caves with bats.” Matteson reports “this devastating disease simply will not allow the luxury of half measures.”

Despite the criticism, the BLM’s Director Bud Abbey recognizes the need to work with cavers and the public. “Working together with stakeholders and our agency partners, we hope to be able to prevent or contain the spread of this devastating disease.” 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.

Historic Williams Canyon Plaque Stolen



By Richard Rhinehart ~ August 13th, 2010. Filed under: Caving News, Williams Canyon Project.

For many visitors to scenic Williams Canyon, north of Manitou Springs, Colorado, the aging bronze plaque was a curiosity. Erected on the Ordovician-age Manitou limestone wall near the locked Williams Canyon gate, the plaque commemorated Henry Truman Williams, a New York City author and editor, who died in 1915.

Sometime between June 22 and June 24, 2010, this two-foot by three-foot historic plaque was stolen, most likely to be sold for scrap and melted down. Manitou Springs Police reportedly are at a loss to find the thieves, despite its prominent location on a popular hiking and biking route.

Unknown persons stole the bronze plaque for Henry Truman Williams near the entrance to Williams Canyon, Colorado. (Richard Rhinehart photograph, copyright 2005.)

Unknown persons stole the bronze plaque for Henry Truman Williams near the entrance to Williams Canyon, Colorado. (Richard Rhinehart photograph, copyright 2005.)

Dedicated by the children of the influential 19th century writer on July 8, 1956, its design was by his daughter, Mrs. Rose Mansfield Pike of Colorado Springs. In that summer of 1956, the plaque was on the automobile route leading to the famous Cave of the Winds. A decade later, the newly-opened US Highway 24 Bypass of Manitou Springs encouraged the Cave of the Winds management to convert Serpentine Drive from one-way downhill to two-way traffic to the intersection with Highway 24. This left the historic Williams Canyon Road to those who chose specifically to drive the narrow gravel road from the Cave down into Manitou Springs. Flooding and severe erosion along the road in 1996 closed it to through traffic, leaving the plaque visible only to the hikers, bikers and cavers who visited the canyon.

An 1863 graduate of New York University, Williams secured employment as a reporter. He also enjoyed visiting the West and exploring. His 1872 guidebook, “A Tourist Guide and Map of the San Juan Mines” was important reading for anyone visiting Colorado’s wild southwestern mountains. In 1870, he met Colorado Springs founder General William J. Palmer and his fiancée, Mary Lincoln Mellen, known by her nickname, Queen. While Williams led them on a scenic tour of the region, Queen suggested the scenic Manitou Canyon, leading north of the Manitou mineral springs, should be named after their guide. He in turn graciously suggested another canyon be named after her.

With wealth comes the authority to name geographic features, and soon Manitou Canyon was known as Williams Canyon. The second canyon, which would eventually hold the Glen Eyrie Castle for the Palmers, was named Queen’s Canyon.

For Williams, he became the editor of the New York Independent newspaper, and later launched The Ladies Floral Cabinet magazine, the first national magazine for women concerning gardening and flowers.

Williams left the New York secular publishing industry by 1880 and began publishing conservative religious materials in Chicago. He returned to Colorado Springs in the late 1880s and established a florist and religious home east of the city. The Williamites Christian religious sect was created from his conservative beliefs, believing Williams was a messenger from God and that The Rapture was imminent.

Today, 95 years following his death, Williams is mostly unknown even among residents of the Pikes Peak region. Not only did he participate in naming two of the important scenic canyons of the region, he also was responsible for bringing one of the first conservative Christian groups to Colorado Springs, to be followed in the next century by groups such as The Navigators, the International Bible Society and Focus on the Family.

His plaque in Williams Canyon will be missed by all who enjoy this scenic gorge.

Closing Colorado’s Popular USFS Caves Easier Said Than Done



By Richard Rhinehart ~ August 4th, 2010. Filed under: Caving News, Conservation.

Mindful of past inaction that may have resulted in the unintended spread of the White Nose Syndrome fungus to additional caves and inactive mines on federal property in the eastern United States, Deputy Regional Forester Tony Dixon’s bold July 27 order to immediately close entry to thousands of caves and mines in the five state Rocky Mountain Region is likely to be considered as visionary by environmental lobbying organizations such as Arizona’s Center for Biological Diversity.

Fulford Cave has a White River National Forest Campground, adding to the public visibility of the cave. (Richard Rhinehart photograph, copyright 2010.)

Fulford Cave has a White River National Forest Campground, adding to the public visibility of the cave. (Richard Rhinehart photograph, copyright 2010.)

Unfortunately, the reality of the closure order is negligible – the Geomyces Destructans pathogen will almost certainly continue to spread among bats throughout the western United States within the next few years, even if Dixon’s order has 100 percent compliance by all Forest visitors. Since the Forest Service controls only a portion of the caves – and bat roosting locations – in the Rocky Mountain West, Dixon’s closure is probably only a show of support for politically influential environmental groups and bat biologists rather than a meaningful policy based upon scientific fact.

Scientific studies indicate the deadly pathogen is mostly spread among bats by bat-to-bat and bat-to-cave contact, which Dixon acknowledges. Yet, the small possibility that humans may unwittingly transmit the spores of the fungus on their clothing, shoes, gear or person has resulted in the Forest Service closing caves across the country. The closure order for the Rocky Mountain Region even goes as far to suggest that commercial cave owners should also close during the winter hibernating season and require all paying visitors to undergo decontamination prior to entering or wear disposable booties and Tyvek suits.

Yet, for all the talk by Dixon and his colleagues in the Golden Region 2 headquarters, consequential actions by the US Forest Service to enforce the regional closure or to educate the public are largely non-existent.

A visit to Colorado’s most popular non-developed cave, Fulford Cave near Eagle, on the closure’s first weekend indicated low public compliance. On Sunday, August 2, a mid afternoon visit to the popular White River National Forest cave’s trailhead found the parking area full of vehicles and groups descending from the cave. No law enforcement or education specialists were present – the only indication Fulford Cave was closed to the public were hard-to-read closure order signs posted on the campground and trailhead’s bulletin boards. On the trailhead sign, a closure order not unlike a garage sale sign posted on a city street provided the most visible indication something was different.

Contacting the White River National Forest regarding this low-energy closure, the Forest indicated it has neither the manpower nor the funding to provide for more consequential enforcement. The Forest is planning on erecting fencing across the trail to discourage visitors from hiking the historic Civilian Conservation Corps trail to the cave, but admit many Forest visitors often walk around fences in similar trail closures, if no law enforcement is present. The Forest is also enacting closures of access trails to the caves – it is now apparently illegal to walk the foot trail to either Fulford Cave or to Hubbard’s Cave in Glenwood Canyon, even if no entry is intended.

Surprisingly, though all the USFS caves in the state were officially closed by Dixon on July 27, one private outfitter was permitted to conduct trips into Fulford Cave on August 2 and August 3. On both days, the outfitter, Colorado Springs-based Colorado Climbing School, was allowed to lead previously-scheduled trips into the cave. On August 3, the trip was accompanied by a US Forest Service natural resource specialist from the Eagle/Holy Cross Ranger District. A spokesperson for the School confirmed the trips, explaining the group underwent WNS decontamination before and after entering the cave. Plus, the Climbing School had paid for a commercial permit to enter the cave, a factor in the Forest’s decision to allow the trips to proceed as scheduled.

Peter McDonald, the Assistant Program Leader for Threatened, Endangered and Sensitive Species for the Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Region, confirmed August 4 that the closure allows “case-by-case allowances for certain research and commercial activities.” He indicated commercial outfitters will continued to be provided access to closed caves, provided they follow decontamination procedures and acquire commercial permits. Trips into caves by private citizens, however, are strictly prohibited under the order, McDonald emphasized.

Rather than the full compliance Dixon seeks with his regional closure order, the reality is that bats will see no additional protection. Commercial outfitters will continue to make a living from guiding trips into Forest caves if they state they are willing to subject their clients to vigorous decontamination procedures created specifically for bat biologists. Meanwhile, many Forest visitors who know nothing about White Nose Syndrome and the possibility of species extinction will continue to visit popular caves by simply walking around trailhead fencing.

The bulletin board at the Fulford Cave trailhead included small print notices for the cave closure. (Richard Rhinehart photograph, copyright 2010.)

The bulletin board at the Fulford Cave trailhead included small print notices for the cave closure. (Richard Rhinehart photograph, copyright 2010.)

Fortunately, there is interest from individual Forests to reach out to cavers and beginning monitoring of caves and bats, though a research permitting system has yet to be created. If a permit procedure can be developed and implemented, the Forests report they do not have the manpower or the funding to manage permits and confirm decontamination has been undertaken by trip participants.

Other federal agencies, such as the Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service, are closely watching the actions of the US Forest Service. Mindful of the problems arising because of the blanket closure, these agencies may choose selected closures or emphasize public education in their plans. In Wyoming, New Mexico and Colorado, the BLM is actively consulting with cavers to determine a plan that is effective, enforceable, and has the support of the knowledgeable caving community.

For bats in the region, the sooner these procedures are determined and implemented, the better. The pathogen has been found in only one Cave Myotis bat in west-central Oklahoma, but it’s likely the infected bat was only the first of many.

The Better Angels of our Nature: The Closure of USFS Region 2 Caves



By Richard Rhinehart ~ July 27th, 2010. Filed under: Caving News, Conservation.

President Abraham Lincoln, in his First Inaugural Address on March 4, 1861, appealed to a country facing an impassable division that would ultimately result in Civil War. He plead to his countrymen for reason and caution and to not allow passions of the day to rule:

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Glenwood-Canyon-View

The many Forest Service caves of Glenwood Canyon, east of Glenwood Canyon, Colorado, are closed as a result of the order. (Richard Rhinehart photograph, copyright 2007.)

In Colorado and the Rocky Mountain West, today we face a similar division among colleagues and friends. The United States Forest Service and the Department of Agriculture, responding to the steady spread of the White Nose Syndrome pathogen across the nation, feels it cannot stand by and allow bats to continue to die. Although science suggests the pathogen is spread by bat-to-bat contact, science also cannot rule out the possibility that humans may somehow play a role. So, in the absence of any definitive answer, the federal government allows passion to rule. Following innuendos of lawsuits from the Center for Biological Diversity, and heartbreaking stories of eastern bat colonies losing hundreds of thousands of bats, the Region 2 directors of the US Forest Service ignored science and decided that all caves and inactive mines on US Forest Service land throughout the region, regardless of whether they are known to harbor bats, will be closed to all human visitation for a period of at least one calendar year. This closure, they explain, will allow science to provide an answer to the origin of the pathogen, its spread across the nation and to save the remaining bats of the Western Hemisphere.

Unfortunately, science seldom works to an arbitrary schedule, particularly when the Congress of the United States fails to provide adequate funding to encourage greater study. The result will be that humans will continue to visit public caves since Forest officials admit they are powerless to enforce a closure over thousands of square miles of land and sadly, bats will continue to die in unprecedented numbers. Signs may be posted at popular, known caves, but the US Forest Service has neither the manpower nor the funding to effectively enforce the closure order or prosecute violations.

Unfortunately, this closure may also result in the irreparable severing of more than four decades of close cooperation, consultation and friendship between US Forest Service officials, bat biologists and cavers. Since the founding of the Colorado Grotto in Denver in 1951 as the first chapter of the National Speleological Society between the Missouri Valley and the west coast, cave enthusiasts and scientists have systematically discovered, explored, surveyed and studied thousands of caves on Forest lands in the Rocky Mountain West. Although official channels of communication will remain open between the Colorado Cave Survey and the US Forest Service, the majority of cavers of Colorado and the region have made it clear to their elected leaders that full sharing of information will cease until the closure order is lifted. This is greatly troubling to the US Forest Service and to the individual Forests, where cavers have provided valuable information assisting federal officials with land use management policy, protection of resources and increased scientific knowledge.

The question is how “Caving Armageddon” can be avoided. Cavers, who know the caves and the resources they contain, see no reason to provide data or information to Forest officials who ignored long, cooperative relationships, as well as meetings and letters from cavers, and instead chosen to lock out their colleagues. Forest officials want to see the relationship continued, with cavers providing data and information, even though they won’t have an opportunity to revisit the caves, for at least one year, or perhaps five, ten or 20 years.

Cavers also are concerned with the degradation of natural resources that will almost certainly occur within the region. With many cavers staying away from the best-known caves, and US Forest officials not having the resources to effectively patrol these caves, vandals will have free reign for the duration of the closure. Gates may be damaged or destroyed, speleothems broken and removed, and spray paint added to formerly pristine walls.

An example of ineffective federal management can be found in Wyoming’s Shirley Mountains, where Bureau of Land Management officials once gated Cave Creek Cave. In this remote region southwest of Casper, federal officials never patrol the caves. As such, the cave’s gate was not only broken open, but the entire door of the gate taken off and left laying on the floor sometime in the 1980s. When contacted about the damaged gate, the Bureau’s office in charge of the resource was unaware there even was a cave, much less that they had once gated it and managed access. Such is likely the fate of many of the popularly-known caves within the five state US Forest Service Region 2.

Unfortunately, destruction of cave resources is not something that will be repaired when the caves are reopened to the public. Damage to the caves will be for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Today’s decisions will be seen for generations of Americans.

A decade ago, a law enforcement official for the White River National Forest lamented he could not keep vandals from spray painting the walls of popular Spring Cave, southeast of Meeker on the White River. He simply did not have the time or the energy to patrol the cave more than a handful of times each summer. With the closure of all caves and mines in the region, estimated by US Forest Service officials to number 30,000 or more, Forest law enforcement officials can never keep track of what is happening at all sites, allowing our nation’s underground treasures to be defiled for all time.

Perhaps, as President Lincoln once suggested, “the better angels of our nature” will allow federal officials to quickly move beyond the closure and instead adapt a targeted closure of those caves and inactive mines that are most at risk from the White Nose Syndrome pathogen. Cavers know where these caves can be found, and are willing and able to help monitor these caves, providing timely information and data to biologists. With a targeted closure, other caves, including those that are popular among the general public such as Colorado’s Fulford Cave, or the thousands of caves that do not harbor bats, can then be reopened by the US Forest Service, allowing effective patrolling by law enforcement officials.

President Lincoln’s words from his First Inaugural still ring true today, as if he were speaking of White Nose Syndrome and the protection of bats and our nation’s natural resources:

“My countrymen, one and all, think calmly and well upon this whole subject. Nothing valuable can be lost by taking time. If there be an object to hurry any of you in hot haste to a step which you would never take deliberately, that object will be frustrated by taking time; but no good object can be frustrated by it.”

Colorado’s Cave of the Winds, Glenwood Caverns and Vapor Caves to Remain Open



By Richard Rhinehart ~ July 22nd, 2010. Filed under: Caving News, Conservation, Williams Canyon Project.

Although US Forest Service officials seem all but certain to issue a blanket cave closure order for all caves and inactive mines on Forest lands in the Rocky Mountain region owing to concerns about the spread of the White Nose Syndrome fungus, Colorado’s three commercially-operated caves will remain open for business.

Cave of the Winds and Glenwood Caverns have issued statements in July reporting they will remain open for business and visitor tours, even if the Forest Service closes public caves in Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas.

Cave of the Winds General Manager Grant Carey stated that “having an informed and experienced show cave community visible to and interfacing with the public is one of the most comprehensive ways to inform, protect and conserve caves and all the resources they hold, including bats.”

“We are working with the U.S. Forest Service and want to reassure our customers that Glenwood Caverns and Historic Fairy Caves are not affected and are open for business as usual,” reported Steve Beckley, owner of Glenwood Caverns in west central Colorado.

COW-Bridal-Chamber

The Bridal Chamber in Colorado's Cave of the Winds is one of many rooms and corridors along the cave's popular Discovery Tour route. (Richard Rhinehart photograph, copyright 2010.)

The National Caves Association, America’s organization for commercial cave owners and management, reports that in Indiana and Missouri, media reports of Forest cave closures by the federal government has resulted in a reduction of paying visitors, owing to public confusion over the closure. In some instances, media reports have been unclear, suggesting all caves, regardless of ownership or access, have been closed, rather than public caves on Forest lands.

In Cave of the Winds and Glenwood Caverns, bats are not commonly seen. The identification of the fungus causing White Nose Syndrome on a bat in a non-public west-central Oklahoma cave has resulted in Forest officials in Colorado to consider implementation of a minimum one-year full closure of caves in Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas, even though the fungus has not been found in any of these states and no bats are currently known to be infected. However, the Forest Service has repeatedly said they prefer an early closure of caves and mines to the public rather than wait until the region has become infected, as happened in states in the northeast.

Bat biologists are conflicted whether the fungus is spread by humans to bats, or whether bat-to-bat transmission is the primary vector. Increasing scientific evidence suggests that bat-to-bat transmission is the leading cause of infection among new bat colonies. Additional research is needed, however.

Cave of the Winds also reports they are closing two non-developed caves in Williams Canyon near Manitou Springs, Colorado. Myotis and Natural Bridges caves are closed to cavers as they have been found in the past to contain significant bat colonies, with 20 or more bats. The cave’s management is working with the National Speleological Society’s Williams Canyon Project, which has provided assistance in cave access and management policies for the more than 70 caves in Williams Canyon and adjacent Cavern Gulch. “I strongly believe that maintaining a collaborative relationship is the best course for a long-term cave conservation and access,” stated Jeremy Stiles, the Cave of the Winds manager.

Stiles indicates some skepticism as to the effectiveness of a blanket closure on Forest lands. “Perhaps the proposed closing of caves is both premature in timing and unnecessarily broad in its scope,” Stiles reported on July 15. “Why close caves that bats don’t actually inhabit on a regular or seasonal basis? What will happen to other equally important scientific exploration, inquiry and study in these caves in the interim? Has the economic impact, including tourism fallout, been appropriately taken into account?”

Both the National Speleological Society and Bat Conservation International have advised federal authorities that targeted closures of significant bat caves is the best option for cave management.

The Colorado Cave Survey of the National Speleological Society announced on July 17 they are beginning a Colorado bat database for cave visitors to report sightings of bats in caves in the state. This database will allow cave visitors to also report numbers of bats seen and the condition of the bats. Collected data will be made available to selected land use partners and for accredited scientific study.

Forest officials are expected to issue a closure order for regional public Forest caves in the coming days or weeks.

The Yampah Spa Vapor Caves at Glenwood Springs also is unaffected by the pending Forest closure order. It is privately owned, and no bats have ever been seen within the cave’s naturally hot and humid atmosphere.

Colorado, Wyoming and South Dakota Caves to Close



By Richard Rhinehart ~ July 9th, 2010. Filed under: Caving News, Conservation.

Colorado cavers have been notified that all Colorado, South Dakota and most Wyoming caves with the US Forest Service will be closed the week of July 12, 2010 owing to the presence of the White Nose Syndrome fungus in a state-owned cave in west-central Oklahoma.

Fulford_Cave_Entrance

Colorado's popular Fulford Cave south of Eagle will be off-limits if the US Forest Service closure order applies to all caves within Forest lands. (Richard Rhinehart photograph, copyright 2008.)

Here is the official Colorado Cave Survey notification from chair David Lambert of Denver:

Carl and I have received word that US Forest Service Region 2 plans to announce early next week, a Special Order for closing all caves region-wide in response to White Nose Syndrome. Region 2 includes all Forest and Grasslands within Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, most of Wyoming and most of South Dakota. This order will be in effect for 12 months. We have been told that re-opening any of the affected caves by subsequent Special Order or permit is extremely unlikely in the next 12 months. One place the announcement will be posted is the Region 2 website: http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/

The plan for the closures will consist of two steps. First, education of the cave-visiting public that a closure is in effect. Second, some trails which are primarily used to access caves will be closed.

There are a number of issues to discuss and decisions for the CCS to make in the coming days and weeks. Among these, the USFS is requesting help in placing signs at cave entrances to notify the public of the closure. The USFS also inquired whether the CCS would like to be identified or have a logo placed on the signs. The CCS will also need to decide what to do about access at Fly and Marble Caves. Carl Bern has spoken with the landowner Larry Blackwell and Larry will follow the CCS decision on this issue. We will be keeping the organized caving community informed, notifying CCS reps of upcoming votes, and we may have a special meeting of the CCS in the near future.

At this time caves on BLM land remain open. However, the BLM has indicated that they want their response to be in coordination with the USFS and so a similar closure on BLM lands may be expected. Decision-making by the BLM had been occurring at the state level, but the Washington Office is now stepping in.

The decision to close caves anywhere is always difficult and controversial. It should be noted though that land managing agencies, caver-run cave conservancies, and private cave owners across the eastern U.S. and into the west have come to similar conclusions regarding this course of action for dealing with WNS. As fellow cavers who share your passion, we know that cave closures are a bitter pill, particularly in the middle of summer. However, let us remember that over one million bats are estimated to have died from WNS and certain species face extinction. Cavers rightfully consider themselves to be stewards of the underground world. Across the west, our claim to that identity will be measured to some extent by our support for these closures. While the USFS Region 2 decision was made without involvement from Carl or myself, we respect its necessity and support the closure. We hope that the caving community as a whole will also respect and support the closure. As this situation continues to evolve, the Colorado Cave Survey will continue, as always, to advocate for both cave conservation and cave ACCESS.

Yours in caving,

Dave Lambert / Chairman / Colorado Cave Survey

Carl Bern / Vice-Chairman / Colorado Cave Survey

The US Forest Service Region 2 office in Golden, Colorado has confirmed the pending closure, as has a representative with the White River National Forest.

July 21, 2010 Update

The closure order promised by US Forest Service officials for the Rocky Mountain Region has been delayed. Though originally stated to be issued by the District 2 Region office the week of July 12, the USFS is now expected to issue a decision sometime before the end of July, 2010. Although the Colorado Cave Survey, the National Speleological Society and Bat Conservation International have suggested a targeted closure of specific bat caves within the forests will be a better plan, USFS officials reportedly are still interested in a full blanket closure of caves and inactive mines for at least a one year period. In addition, USFS Region 3 – Arizona and New Mexico – are also considering blanket closures.

Meanwhile, the Bureau of Land Management is indicating it is reviewing possible options for potential closures, perhaps on a targeted basis. Wyoming BLM may close only two caves on BLM lands in the state, each containing bat colonies.