Listen to this post
RBC I Regional Forester Daniel Jirón signed an extension to an emergency order today to restrict access to all caves and abandoned mines on National Forests and Grasslands in the Rocky Mountain Region of the U.S. Forest Service (Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas). The intent of the closure is to minimize the risk of the human spread of the fungus (Geomyces destructans) that causes White-nose Syndrome.
“Our priority is to protect bat species and habitat from the westward spread of WNS, a deadly disease that has killed 5.5 million bats since 2006,” said Daniel Jirón, regional forester, U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region. “The fungus has not yet been detected within the five-state Rocky Mountain Region and we are taking an aggressive approach to minimizing the risk of humans inadvertently introducing the fungus into our caves and abandoned mines.”
The emergency order will extend the initial closure for another 12 months beginning Aug. 1 and includes specific exemptions for further research and coordination. This year, the closure order provides exemptions to active members of the National Speleological Society and Cave Research Foundation for activities consistent with national agreements with both organizations. Jirón commented that “the Forest Service values the expertise of the caving community and views them as stewards of important cave resources and habitat.” The agreements allow for education, inventory, research, monitoring, protection, restoration and other activities necessary to conserve cave resources. Access will not be granted to caves during the winter hibernation season, Oct. 15 – April 15.
There are roughly 30,000 abandoned mines and hundreds of caves on National Forest System lands throughout the Rocky Mountain Region. In addition, national forests in the Rocky Mountain Region support about 21 species of bats; 15 of which are hibernating bats. Once a colony is infected, it spreads rapidly and can kill more than 90 percent of bats within the cave in just two years.
Scientists are certain transmission of WNS is occurring bat-to-bat and cave-to-bat. Scientists also suspect transmission of WNS may be facilitated by human activity in caves where bats hibernate, because of the geographically discontinuous spread of the fungus. People may be transporting fungal spores from cave to cave, as fungal spores have been detected on gear exposed to affected sites.
WNS is named for a white fungus that appears on the faces, ears, wings and feet of hibernating bats. The disease causes bats to come out of hibernation severely underweight, often starving before the insects on which they feed emerge in the spring.
There have been no reported human illnesses attributed to the fungus.
In 2009, the Forest Service closed its caves and mines in the southern and eastern United States, and they remain closed today.