Ape Cave, a 2-mile long lava tube cave on Gifford Pinchot National Forest, draws approximately 120,000 visitors annually. The cave does not have a known hibernating bat population, but with white-nose syndrome having been discovered in Washington in 2016, educating and managing people to minimize the risk for potential introduction of Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd)- the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome- into this and other caves has become a priority for the U.S. Forest Service. Although Ape Cave does not get much bat use, there are several lava tube caves in the area that are hibernacula, so the potential for transmission to area bat populations could be high.
During peak visitation season, visitors to Ape Cave have an opportunity to interact with volunteers and staff, not only to learn more about bats and why they are important, but also to understand more about white-nose syndrome and the threat it poses to bat populations in North America and how they can take precautions to reduce the risk of spreading Pd when they visit caves. Signs and footwear cleaning stations at the trail to Ape Cave help carry this message to visitors year round.
The Gifford Pinchot National Forest contains the largest concentration of caves in the state of Washington. The educational program and interpretive signs at Ape Cave provide a unique and important opportunity for the Forest Service to interact with thousands of visitors each year, creating a deeper understanding of forest resources, including caves and bats, and how visitors can actively participate in their conservation.