BLM weighs decision on closing caves
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management could decide in the next several weeks whether widespread or targeted closures of caves and abandoned mines may be warranted to protect bats from the threat of a deadly fungus.
The BLM’s consideration comes as the U.S. Forest Service has decided to impose a one-year closure on caves and mines in Colorado and several nearby states.
The BLM will hold an open house Tuesday at its office in Silt to gather public input and discuss possible options for responding to the threat posed by white-nose syndrome to bats.
Federal agencies in Colorado have been acting after white-nose syndrome was discovered in northwest Oklahoma this year.
The syndrome is caused by a fungus believed to have arrived in the eastern United States from Europe in 2006. It is thought to have a fatality rate of 90 to 100 percent in bats, disturbing them during hibernation and leaving them in a weakened and malnourished state.
The Forest Service issued its temporary closure order last week to give it time to consider whether a more targeted approach, such as closing only caves and abandoned mines where bat populations exist, might be adequate.
The Forest Service closure includes a few exceptions, such as for scientific research where authorized, and for continued operation of a commercial cave on forest land in South Dakota.
Colorado BLM spokeswoman Vanessa Delgado said her agency may take a similar approach, or decide on more targeted closures.
Some members of the caving community have been arguing against broad-scale closures, saying more targeted ones would be more likely to win the support of cavers. Federal officials say they consider that support vital to spreading the word about closures among the public and being able to protect bats.
Federal officials believe human visitation may be helping spread the fungus to bats in caves and abandoned mines.
The BLM manages numerous caves in the Grand Junction/De Beque/Montrose region and the Glenwood Springs and Cañon City areas.
It also has many abandoned mines under its jurisdiction in Colorado.