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Know the West

The latest: A cautious cave re-opening


Since 2006, a powdery white fungus has killed nearly 6 million bats in the Eastern and Southern U.S. In 2010, when white-nose syndrome spread into Missouri, the Forest Service at first kept Western caves open, but asked spelunkers to disinfect their equipment. Then, that summer, the agency closed all caves and abandoned mines in its Rocky Mountain region, including Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas and most of Wyoming and South Dakota. The emergency closure was done without public input, and cavers protested (HCN, 6/07/10, "Bracing for white-nose syndrome").

The Forest Service recently announced that Rocky Mountain region caves will reopen this summer, most under an adaptive management plan. Developed with public input, the plan includes various restrictions, depending on where bats hibernate and how close the caves are to outbreaks of white-nose syndrome. Environmental groups call the decision shortsighted. Some scientists think that the disease might not take hold in the West, because Western caves may be too warm and dry for the cold-loving fungus, and hibernation colonies tend to be small and far apart.