Caves Remain Closed to Protect Bats in Ozark-St. Francis National Forests (Jan. 30, 2014)

RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. —In the wake of the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission’s announcement of White-nose Syndrome in Arkansas, Ozark-St. Francis National Forests officials are reminding visitors that caves on the national forests remain closed, with the exception of Blanchard Springs Cavern in Stone County.

In May 2009, the regional forester for the Southern Region issued a closure order for all caves and mines on National Forest system lands unless there are official Forest Service signs listing them as open.

“The news today about White-nose Syndrome being identified in Arkansas is a sad day for conservationists and bat enthusiasts,” said Acting Ozark-St. Francis National Forest Supervisor John Baswell. “We did what we could to prolong its arrival and we will continue to do what we can to minimize its spread.”

White-nose Syndrome, a fungal disease that causes bats to awaken during hibernation, is believed to cause bats to use up their fat reserves rapidly during winter in search of food. However, since the insects they eat are seasonally dormant, the bats die of starvation. The fungus has killed nearly seven million bats in New England and Mid-Atlantic States and continues to spread unchecked, killing nearly 100% of bats of certain species, in some locations.

While it’s believed White-nose Syndrome is spread primarily bat to bat, most federal and state caves are closed to the public to minimize the human spread of the disease by clothes or equipment. In Arkansas’ national forests, all caves are closed, with the exception of Blanchard Springs Caverns, a guided cave that follows U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service decontamination protocols for visitors before they tour the cave.

According to Baswell these protocols have been in place for several years. “If bats are removed from the mix, we all will suffer. Until a cure is found, we will continue to take necessary precautions to prevent the spread of this deadly disease by human means.”

Forest visitors who violate the cave order may be fined not more than $5,000 for an individual and $10,000 for an organization or imprisonment for not more than six months, or both.

For more information on the cave closure order and White-nose Syndrome, visit http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/osfnf/home/?cid=STELPRDB5213741.

###

Image(s):