Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Caving’

Photo credit Iowa DNR

I know, I know- I already posted a blog today, but I just got an email from Scott Dykstra, a park ranger I’ve been in touch with at Maquoketa Caves State Park and I was so excited I just had to post it for you to read.  (Maquoketa, IA 3.5 hours north of Quincy. Click here for a Google Map)

As many of you know, dozens of states from the east coast to the Rockies closed all public caves since 2006 to contain the spread of a disease that kills bats.  In the past few years though, it’s become clear that the primary way the White Nose Bat Fungus is spread is among the bats themselves, and that if cavers are clean and responsible with their equipment, caving can resume without further endangering bats.  You can read my entire blog about the bats by clicking here.

I applaud Iowa for taking the first steps in restoring cave access so that visitors can explore this unique and important ecosystem.  My hope is that other states (ahem, Illinois and Missouri) follow suit to educate the public and reopen caves.  There’s no better way to protect an ecosystem than helping people learn about it and experience it first hand.

Email from Iowa DNR:

Laura,

This summer visitor’s to Maquoketa Caves State Park will once again have the opportunity to explore the many caves there.  The caves have been closed since 2009 to slow the spread of a fungus, called White Nose Syndrome (WNS) which is deadly to bats.

Since first detected in 2006, WNS has contributed to the deaths of over 5.5 million bats across the eastern North America.  It is known to spread from bat to bat. Officials are also concerned that it might inadvertently be spread from footwear and clothing worn by cave explorers moving from one location to another.

The DNR is still very concerned about the risk of spreading WNS from cave to cave by persons carrying the fungus so visitors will be asked to attend a short program informing them of the risks of WNS.  This program will also help visitors identify what would put them at risk of transmitting the fungus.  Once visitors have attended this program, they will receive a wristband that functions as a permit for cave exploration.

Maquoketa Caves is hiring extra summer help to provide this program as well as guided tours of Dance Hall Cave and other natural features of the park.  We are very excited about having interpretive programs available at Maquoketa Caves again.  Feedback has demonstrated the high value to visitor experience that a professional guide offers.  There is so much to experience and learn at Maquoketa Caves and we are very happy to be helping people get the most out of their experience there.

In cooperation with the Friends of Maquoketa Caves, we will be hosting a grand opening on Saturday April 14.  We are calling it “Pancakes in the Park” and will be serving pancakes and fresh home-made maple syrup harvested from the park trees themselves.  There will be several educational programs available as well as cave tours.  The open house is from 9 AM – 12 PM.  The programs and tours will continue until 2 PM.

Starting May 26 staff will be providing the WNS Awareness Program for cave access from 9AM to 7:30 PM.  From April 14 to May 26 we will be providing programs as often as possible and visitors may stop at the park office to contact staff about getting a permit for cave access.  If you have a group that would like to visit the caves, please contact the park prior to coming to make arrangements for a guided tour and the WNS Awareness Program.

Respectfully,

Scott Dykstra

Park Ranger

Iowa Department Natural Resources

Maquoketa Cave State Park

563-652-5833

Read Full Post »

Let’s talk bats.

These much maligned winged mammals have long been typecast in horror flicks and nighttime terrors, but the truth is, bats are an integral part of the world’s ecosystem, and indeed, are important in our own backyards. According to the Department of Natural Resources websites, there are around 12 species of bat in Illinois and Missouri; including three species on the endangered species list.

This Little Brown Bat is suffering from White Nose Syndrome.

Each individual bat in the state can eat up to 3,000 bugs in a single night. Thanks to just the gray bats in Missouri and Illinois, there are 1,080 TONS of flying insects that are not bugging you all summer long. All of the bats in the area are insectivorous, and this massive bug buffet is our best defense against dangerous mosquito populations and diseases they carry, like West Nile Virus. Bats are also important pollinators, and with decline in honeybee populations, they become more important in that respect each year.

But something is killing our bats. White Nosed Bat Syndrome was first documented in 2006 in Albany, New York. There, cavers began to notice bats acting strangely, some dead or dying, and many with a strange white fungus around their muzzles. Since the fungus has been discovered, there has been an unprecedented spread of the disease. The cold-loving fungus appears to grow on the bats in the winter and disrupts normal hibernation. The bats awaken too early or too often and exhaust their fat stores and essentially starve to death. In some hibernating populations, the mortality rate is more than 90 percent. The bulk of the cases of WNBS have been in New York and Tennessee, however, the epidemic appears to be spreading and has been seen in nearly all of the Eastern Seaboard and into the Midwest, including Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Indiana and Ohio.

It is believed that the primary spread of the disease is among the bats themselves, however, people who go caving (also called spelunking) may unknowingly spread the fungus between populations on their boots or equipment. Though the fungus itself does not pose a threat to humans, bats are so crucial to our ecosystem that the Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state authorities closed most caves on public land in all of the affected states in 2009, and the closures are still in effect this year. The closures do not affect privately owned caves, however, the DNR urges landowners to be aware of the problem and report any dead bats found on their properties.

So, as outdoor enthusiasts, what can we do to help?  Besides abiding by the closures recommended by the DNR, outdoorsmen (and women) should always be aware of the possible contaminates found on their clothes, equipment and boots. The White Nosed Bat Syndrome, along with fish and game related diseases and invasive and the spread of non-native plant and insect species can largely be avoided if we take some basic precautions. These include: Wash all boots and equipment when traveling between different ecosystems, states, bodies of water, etc. This can be as simple as wiping the bottom of your boots with a bleach and water solution. A bleach solution also works well to clean waders and fishing equipment. Also, don’t move wood or plant products. Bugs and disease can easily hitch a ride on firewood or plants and a new ecosystem may not have the ability to fight off a foreign invader. And never, never, never move plants or animals from one place to another. Ever. The best advice is to use common sense. The cleaner you are when you’re in the great outdoors, the better. As the saying goes, “Take only memories (or photographs), leave only footprints.”

For more: www.fws.gov/whitenosesyndrome

Original Post from April 26, 2011

Read Full Post »