RBC I As part of the South Fork Area Improvement Project, the White River National Forest will be revamping the South Fork Campground’s parking area, constructing a trail and removing graffiti in Spring Cave. The work will be accomplished with the assistance of a Colorado Correctional Industries crew and mitigation funding from the closure of the abandoned Butterfly/Burrell uranium mine.
The crew will also be installing a bat gate at the Spring Cave entrance in late June and early July.
The gate will facilitate compliance with the 2013 seasonal closure that was implemented to prevent disturbance of swarming and hibernating bats and to lessen the likelihood of human transmission of White Nose Syndrome, a fungal disease that is killing bat colonies in the east and in Washington State.
The gate will permit human access to the cave from April 16 through Aug. 14, and then be closed Aug. 15 to April 15 when the existing closure order is in effect. Bats and other cave dwelling animals will still be able to pass through the gate when it is closed.
While the bat gate will help with seasonal compliance, Forest Service wildlife biologist Natasha Goedert hopes education will reduce the vandalism, graffiti and litter that have been noticeably more pronounced in recent years. She also hopes that education will help prevent the spread of White Nose Syndrome.
“During the 2016 field season, there will be two interns from the Geological Society of America frequenting Spring Cave to provide education and outreach to cave visitors,” Goedert said. “They will explain why the gate is being installed and ensure that visitors are not bringing in clothing and gear from areas known to be infected with White Nose Syndrome.
“They’ll also provide decontamination materials and instructions and assist visitors with the registration process,” she said.
The GeoCorps interns, Stephanie Bouchey and Olivia Patick, will be available to lead informal tours of the cave through the middle of August.
Spring Cave is a nationally recognized and well-known geologic resource that sees many visitors each year. It is documented as a winter bat hibernaculum, or cave that provides a constant temperature and protection for hibernating bats that are sensitive to disturbance and more susceptible to disease.
Human disturbance can awaken bats and lead to depletion of the fat reserves they need to survive the winter. Humans also transport the spores of the White Nose Syndrome fungus on their infected clothing and gear.
Bats are essential as pollinators and they play a critical role in insect control, but their numbers are dwindling. Since 2007, bat populations in areas affected by White Nose Syndrome have declined by approximately 90 percent. The disease spreads through bat-to-bat contact and via the clothing, shoes and equipment of cave visitors.
It has now traveled to 19 states and four Canadian provinces. Until recently, White Nose Syndrome had not been found in caves west of Oklahoma, but this spring infected bats were found in Washington State.
If you would like to visit Spring Cave, you will first need to register and obtain a free permit. This can be done online at www.fs.usda.gov/ Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5430159.pdf, and at the Blanco Ranger District at 220 East Market St. in Meeker.
Bouchey and Patick offer these tips to help visitors prepare for their visit to this fragile ecosystem: Wear protective clothing (long sleeves, pants, helmet, gloves); Bring at least two light sources (primary, back up and extra batteries); Let someone know where you are and when you plan to return; and bring no gear and wear no item of clothing that has been in a cave in a White Nose Syndrome affected area.
If you have questions about the management of Spring Cave, White Nose Syndrome and bats, or how to register and prepare for your visit to the cave, please contact the Blanco Ranger District at 970-878-4039.