Wed June 15, 2011

U.S. Forest Service Grants Limited Access to Cavers in Colorado

As a deadly bat fungus continues to spread west, U.S. Forest Service officials in Colorado say they’re granting a limited exemption to cavers during an upcoming convention in July. The move signals cooperation between the U.S. Forest Service and recreationalists as North American bats face one of the deadliest diseases in recent memory.

“We looked at the caves that are not prime habitat for bats,” says Janelle Smith, spokesperson for The U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Region. “We did a very careful environmental analysis to ensure that we were taking the least risk possible and the precautions that the convention goers are taking in addition to that we feel really minimizes the risk.”

The decision highlights a delicate balancing act that agencies like the U.S. Forest Service are striking as they juggle a commitment to recreation and protection of wildlife.

“It’s an interesting balance right now,” says Ann Froschauer, National White Nose Syndrome Coordinator for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which closed all mines and refuge lands to recreation. “There oftentimes are instances where state and federal agencies have to work with recreational user groups to meet the mission of not only the agency, but also to provide for the recreational opportunities.”

While the agency has granted exemptions for researchers, this marks one of the first considerations for cavers in the Rocky Mountain region. One goal, says Smith, is to raise awareness about White Nose Syndrome among cavers.

Since scientists identified White Nose Syndrome in 2006, it has killed more than a million bats mostly on the East Coast and in the Midwest.