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Social and economic impacts of cave closures to protect bat populations

Date: April 15, 2015

Context of cave closures

Cave spelunking is a popular recreation activity on the Monongahela National Forest (photo of Tub Cave by John Harman in 2007)
Cave spelunking is a popular recreation activity on the Monongahela National Forest (photo of Tub Cave by John Harman in 2007)
All caves on the Monongahela National Forest, located in north central West Virginia, have been closed to public access since 2009 in response to the spread of the White-nose Syndrome (WNS) in bats. WNS is caused by a fungus, with spores transferred from one cave to another, potentially by people. These closures are widespread across the U.S. There was little understanding of the impacts these closures were causing for public participants in cave spelunking activities.

Research findings

A study of the caving community on the Monongahela National Forest was conducted to understand the likely social and economic impacts of these closures. These caves were found to be important to people for a variety of purposes, including recreation, sharing with and educating others, and introducing young people to caves and caving, as well as laboratories for science and sources of inspiration. The direct effect of the closure is the displacement of cavers from the underground places that they used in the past. Information from an economic analysis described a variety of caving trip types, including overnight campouts on the forest, stays in local motels, and some that were based at the homes of friends. A few described coming to the area on long day trips. Expenditures were commonly for gas, food, groceries, retail, and other expenses. Evidence suggests likely negative impacts resulting from the ongoing cave closures, possibly from 1 to 12 jobs within the community. Economic impacts of cave closures on this forest are likely small, but not insignificant. Local negative economic impacts are concentrated in a few businesses. The closures have been extended through June 30, 2013.

Tools and applications for managers

This analysis combined findings from the National Visitor Use Monitoring Program with interviews from members of the Monongahela National Forest caving community to develop characterizations of use, travel patterns, and likely social and economic impacts of the cave closures.

Benefits to society

This study provides a greater ability to understand local and regional cave users and the impacts of these closures on them and the community, which provides additional input to future decisions about closures.

Principal Investigators: 
Forest Service Partners: 
US National Forest System National Cave and Karst Program; the Monongahela National Forest, Elkins, WV; The Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Missoula, MT
External Partners: 
Christensen Research, Missoula, MT