Monongahela National Forest Caves to Remain Closed Pending Long-term Strategy

Contact(s): Jason Reed

For Immediate Release: June 20, 2012

Contact: Jason Reed               304-636-1800 x 242

Monongahela National Forest Caves to Remain Closed Pending Development of Long-term Strategy

(Elkins, WV) White nose syndrome has now become an unfortunately well-known malady, killing an estimated 5.6 million bats in the eastern United States and Canada since the winter of 2006-2007 when it was first documented in New York State. As the disease spreads land managers, biologists, and scientists are all trying to find ways to better understand and combat its effects. More than half of the 45 bat species living in the United States rely on hibernation for winter survival. Nationally, eleven cave-hibernating bats, including 4 endangered species and subspecies are already affected by or are potentially at risk for white-nose syndrome.  One tool implemented widely in the areas already infected, and in areas which might become affected, has been to close caves on public land to entry by visitors. All Monongahela National Forest caves have been closed since 2009 under a Forest Supervisor’s closure order, which was just extended until June 30, 2013 unless rescinded earlier.

“We know bats play an extremely important role in reducing agricultural and forest pests”, notes Forest Supervisor Clyde Thompson. “It’s been very difficult to predict the long term effects of any management actions, so we’ve been taking the most cautious approach to protecting bats in caves. This is especially important since the Monongahela contains numerous caves heavily used by bats and the Forest in general is important to sustaining bat populations.”

Research has indicated that one method of transmission of the disease from cave to cave may be on gear and clothing of cave visitors. Recreational cavers, biologists, and land managers have worked together to come up with decontamination protocols which are intended to prevent accidental spread. However, the Forest has not yet developed a long-term cave management strategy to analyze the current status of white nose syndrome on the Forest, its effects on various bat species using the Forest, and what options exist to best protect remaining bats and consider recreational caving use. That analysis is expected to begin this summer, and will include public involvement.