After a three-year closure, Spring Cave will reopen until Aug. 15

MEEKER I As many people are aware, Spring Cave has been closed for the last three years due to the threat of White-nose syndrome (WNS), a disease caused by the fungus, Geomyces destructans (Gd), that has resulted in the mortality of more than 5 million bats since 2006.
Since 2010, the U.S. Forest Service has developed an adaptive management strategy replacing an emergency closure order in place since 2010.
The adaptive approach includes three tiers of management based on the status of WNS and Gd:
Tier 1: White-nose syndrome is not confirmed within 250 miles of a national forest; caves are open with seasonal closures for caves important to bats; Tier 2: White-nose syndrome confirmed within 250 miles; all caves are generally closed; Tier 3: White-nose syndrome is endemic or has minimal impacts on bat populations, revert to Forest Plan direction.
The White River National Forest falls within Tier 1 and began implementation of the adaptive management strategy for Spring Cave on Aug. 1. Open and closed periods for Spring Cave were developed around seasonal bat activity including “swarming” and use of the cave during the winter months as a hibernaculum. This means that Spring Cave will be open from now through Aug. 15 and closed for the remainder of the year.
Fall swarming behavior in bats is believed to be a mating event and it may also allow bats to familiarize young bats with hibernacula.
Recent surveys at Spring Cave have documented more than 100 bats swarming during the fall swarming period (mid-August to mid-October). A winter bat hibernaculum is usually a cave or a mine that provides a constant temperature and protection for winter hibernation.
Spring Cave was documented as a hibernaculum in 1977 with the most recent winter survey in 2013 revealing 29 bats. Bats are extremely sensitive to disturbance during winter hibernation and disturbance awakening bats can lead to costly depletion of fat reserves needed to survive the winter.
This yearly opening will remain in effect until the fungus that causes WNS is located within 250 miles of Spring Cave. Currently, people may visit Spring Cave through Aug. 15, with the cave closing Aug. 16, reopening on April 15, 2014.
Permits are now required to enter Spring Cave so that the USFS can advise visitors who may have visited a cave affected by WNS of decontamination procedures before they enter the cave.
Permits will be available at the Blanco Ranger District or on-line through Aug. 15.
When the cave reopens in April of 2014, permits must be obtained on line.
Clothing and equipment used in caves in states/provinces where WNS is found or suspected are prohibited. Decontamination procedures following U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service protocols are required by everyone to enter any and all caves.
The following website: www.fs.usda.gov/detail/r2/home/?cid=stelprdb5430001 has more information regarding the registration and decontamination procedures.
“While Spring Cave is no longer closed all year, I do recognize this approach to managing Spring Cave limits public access and the act of visiting the cave is now more cumbersome due to the permitting and decontamination procedures, said Ken Coffin, the district ranger for the Blanco Ranger District of the
White River National Forest. “This is unfortunate. However, given the seriousness of WNS becoming established in this area, I hope people will understand why we have implemented these regulations and comply with them.
“Given our current understanding of the Gd fungus and local bat ecology, I believe these are reasonable approaches that will help reduce the risk of WNS becoming established in Spring Cave while providing a four month period of time when people can visit the cave,” he said.