Forest Service Temporarily Closes Caves and Mines to Public Use

Contact(s): Michelle Davalos (276) 679-8370

Forest Service Temporarily Closes Caves and Mines to Public Use


Norton, VA, July 1, 2019— Recently, you may have been hearing about a disease that is killing bats in the northeastern part of the United States.  The disease is called white nose syndrome, or WNS, due to a white furry-looking growth on the nose and mouth of the bats.  Scientists have isolated and named the fungus that causes this growth:  Pseudogymnoascus destructans.  White nose syndrome is found in Virginia.

The Southern Region of the National Forest System has continued the closure of all caves on national forest lands to public entry, for an additional two years.  This is due in part to WNS, which can be spread by cave-explorers inadvertently carrying the fungus from an infected cave, and by the bats themselves flying to different caves. Why all the fuss about bats?  Bats are an important part of the world’s ecosystem:  they eat their weight in insects each night, they pollinate tropical fruits like mangoes, bananas and cashews, and their droppings (guano) are an important source of fertilizer for many cultures.


Bats are an interesting group of animals.  They have many different characteristics that can be used for identification:  some have huge ears, some have little ears, there are nose-leafs, hair with different colors and patterns, some bats are big and some are little…they live in trees, caves, under the leaves on the ground, in a house, under a bridge or in a cliff.  Bats are long-lived, up to three decades, but most only have one baby each year.  When a lot of bats die out of one group, it takes a long time to build their numbers back.


Since caves in the national forests have been closed to the public, many people might instead go inside caves on private lands.  We hope you won’t, in order to help protect any bats that may be hibernating there.   People going into caves in the winter can disturb hibernating animals, whether bats or bears, but at this time we’re concerned about the spread of white nose syndrome.  If you see any bats with a white furry substance on their face, please let us know.  Call the Clinch Ranger District at 276-679-8370 with your information.  You might be protecting your future gardens by preventing the deaths of bats, who eat garden pests.