For Immediate Release, June 28, 2011
Contact: Mollie Matteson, (802) 318-1487
BLM Acknowledges Threat of Bat-killing Disease, But Agency's Limits on Cave Access Don't Go Far Enough
Bats Remain Vulnerable for National Cave Convention in Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo.— In response to concerns that a disease that has decimated bats in the eastern United States could be transported into Colorado by attendees at a national caving convention, the Bureau of Land Management has issued a permit granting access to only two caves, stipulating strict requirements for decontamination and other protective measures.
However, the Colorado Division of Wildlife advised that the BLM not grant access to either of the caves because of documented bat use. In addition, caves on BLM lands in Colorado are still generally open to the public, leaving them vulnerable to human-facilitated spread of the deadly bat illness known as white-nose syndrome.
“The BLM’s decision acknowledges the threat of white-nose syndrome, but falls short of providing the level of protection the state biologists think bats need,” said Mollie Matteson with the Center for Biological Diversity, which has petitioned to ban nonessential human travel into caves on public lands.
The meeting of the National Speleological Society is scheduled for July 18-22 in Glenwood Springs, and is expected to draw cavers from around the country, including regions in the eastern and southern United States afflicted with the bat disease. Scientists believe that white-nose syndrome can be transmitted to new areas on the boots, clothing and gear of cave visitors.
Last month, the White River National Forest granted a similar permit to the caving group, allowing attendees to take guided trips into 14 caves on national forest land. However, caves on national forest lands in Colorado and throughout the Rocky Mountain region of the U.S. Forest Service have been off-limits to nonessential access, including recreational caving, since last summer, due to the threat of the bat disease. The permit was an exception to the standing prohibition on cave access and attempted to limit access to caves where bats were absent.
“The best thing for bats right now is for people to stay out of caves until scientists know more about this disease," Matteson said. "Bat biologists are saying a human-caused jump of white-nose syndrome into the western United States could be absolutely devastating, so why are some federal land managers taking the risk and leaving caves open?”
In a report released in January, the Center documented that caves on most federal lands in the West are still open to public visitation, including cave recreation. Most federal lands in the East, however, are administratively closed, as a precaution against human-caused spread of the bat disease.
In five years, white-nose syndrome, or the fungus suspected to cause it, has spread from upstate New York to 19 states and four Canadian provinces, reaching from Nova Scotia to western Oklahoma. It causes mortality rates of 70 percent to 100 percent in affected bat populations. Biologists now estimate that more than 1 million bats have died from the disease and believe that eventually all 25 hibernating bat species in North America may be affected.
A recent study published in the journal Science estimated that the value of insect-eating bats’ pest-control services to American farmers is worth $3.7 billion to $53 billion per year. Bats have been documented to eat significant quantities of insects that attack crops, including corn, cotton, cabbage, tomatoes, fruit trees and timber.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 320,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
To learn more about bats and white-nose syndrome, go to http://www.saveourbats.org.