Caving challenges in the era of white-nose

National Speleological Society conventioneers (from left) Avra
 Cohen of New York City, Tim Burlingame of Jersey City, N.J.,
and Jeff Call of Saltville, Va., power-wash their caving gear to
guard against the spread of white-nose syndrome after visiting 
a pair of Greenbrier County caves. More than 1,100 cavers from 
across the nation and around the world are in Lewisburg this
 week for the group's annual convention.

Nothing has affected recreational caving like the spread of white-nose syndrome, the disease that has killed millions of hibernating bats in 19 states and four Canadian provinces since it was first detected -- by a caver -- in Schoharie Caverns, N.Y., in 2006.

In an effort to slow the spread of the fungus-borne disease, state and federal officials initially closed all caves on public lands. Caves owned by conservancies and caving organizations in states where WNS had been found followed suit.

"A number of caving events were called off, and the communities that hosted them suffered financially," said Peter Youngbaer, WNS liaison for the National Speleological Society. The closures also took their toll on campgrounds and cafes in caving areas, he said.

Since then, as decontamination protocols were established for cavers and their gear, and as scientists learned more about the nature of the disease, a number of caves once closed have reopened, or are barring access only during winter hibernation months.

"It's now a patchwork of closures that can make it a challenge for cavers to know where to go," said Youngbaer. But National Speleological Society members are committed to continue working with state and federal scientists to learn more about WNS and limit its effect on cave dwelling bats, while promoting public awareness about the disease and cave conservation, Youngbaer said.


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