Posts Tagged ‘Maquoketa Cave State Park’

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:


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.


Scott Dykstra

Park Ranger

Iowa Department Natural Resources

Maquoketa Cave State Park


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This photo is from the Ape Cave in Washington State in 2010. Many caves east of the Rockies have been closed since 2006.

Publicly owned caves throughout the country from the East Coast to Colorado have been closed since 2006 when White Nosed Bat disease was discovered ravaging populations of bats in New York and beyond. I wrote the article below in the spring of last year talking about the disease and the cave closures. While it’s very true that this is a terrible disease with over a 90% mortality rate for affected populations, it is becoming clear that the bats primarily spread the disease among themselves.  There’s no evidence that responsible caving with clean gear will spread the fungus among the bats.

I’ve contacted the Illinois and Iowa DNR asking about the criteria for the reopening of caves, but no one seems to be able to say when or if the decision will be made to reopen the sites.  It would be wonderful to see states reopen supervised caves like Illinois Caverns where no evidence of WNBS has been found.  In supervised caves, users can be monitored for cleaning their equipment, and responsible stewardship of these delicate ecosystems can resume.   The loss of bats is certainly a catastrophe, but since no causality has been proved, it’s a shame that the state continues to ban responsible outdoors-people from these educational opportunities.

I believe it’s time to reopen caves slowly (supervised caves first), to monitor the situation, and to adjust bans to fit the scientific evidence available.  Further closure of the caves only discourages people from learning about this special environment and developing an appreciation for all of the wildlife that caves support.

Click here for a map of the spread of the disease. http://www.fws.gov/whitenosesyndrome/maps/WNSMap_10-03-11_300dpi.jpg


UPDATE January 24th, 2012

I emailed the Illinois Department of Natural Resources the following question:

I think the main question we’ve got is what are the criteria for reopening caves and is opening the caves a priority in 2012?   I don’t think any outdoor enthusiasts disputes the need for protecting the bats, but it seems like the indefinite closure of the caves is counter-productive for protecting them.  Studies out east have shown that the primary vector of the disease is the bats themselves and that responsible caving (with clean equipment) can go on without spreading the fungus. I think all outdoors people are concerned with the safety of the bats, but the blanket closures with no criteria for reopening the sites can only decrease awareness of caves and the special ecosystems they provide. Couldn’t supervised sites like IL Caverns require clean equipment and be reopened in 2012? 

And received the follwing response. It explains part of the IDNR’s plan for research, but does not address the question of when they may consider reopening caves.

Thank you for taking the time to contact me regarding cave closure and related WNS issues in Illinois.  Please know that we will be conducting a comprehensive, state-wide survey of many Illinois caves throughout the month of February with partners from the INHS, USFWS, USFS, etc.  This is part of a large Federal grant to monitor for the presence of WNS in Illinois – it is absolutely crucial that all Illinois caves remain closed.  IF WNS is found in any Illinois cave, it will require careful and strategic media coordination so the public is provided with precise and factual information. During the entire month of February, I will be working with a team of colleagues sampling a sub-set of caves throughout the State of Illinois for the possible presence of WNS.  Our comprehensive sampling efforts will involve sampling both animals as well as cave substrates.  All samples will be analyzed under strict laboratory conditions.  To date, we do not have any confirmed signs of WNS anywhere within the State of Illinois – we remain hopeful that we will not find any infected animals this year, but unfortunately I feel the odds are against – time will tell.   Joe Kath, Endangered Species Manager/Bat Specialist IDNR 


I also contacted the Iowa DNR and got some positive news from Maquoketa Cave State Park!

Laura, We had a meeting yesterday.  Nothing is finalizes yet from the meeting but things are looking hopefully for this summer.  I wish I could tell you more but we just need to finalize all of our discussions and no which approach we will be taking.  But I will say there will be something different this summer than just having all the caves closed. 


Scott Dykstra, Park Ranger, Iowa Department Natural Resources, Maquoketa Cave State Park


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.

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 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

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