A local cave preservation organization is asking cavers to stay out of area caves until May 15 while officials continue their probe into the die-off of thousands of bats this winter and last year.
The Northeastern Cave Conservancy voted Sunday to close its caves to visitation both to relieve any stress on hibernating bats and to address the possibility cavers themselves could be spreading the affliction being dubbed “white nose syndrome.”
NCC publicity chairwoman Christa Hay said today it’s unclear whether humans are to blame or if the winter weather, which came with warm spells both this and last year, could be responsible.
“Some people believe both. Right now, we just don’t really know,” Hay said.
Wildlife officials have said between 8,000 and 11,000 bats were discovered dead in Albany County caves last year. This winter, officials discovered more dead bats in a cave in Schoharie County and one in Vermont.
A white fungus surrounding the noses of some of the bats led officials to consider the possibility the fungus itself is responsible for the die-off, which is believed to occur while the bats are hibernating.
But state Department of Environmental Conservation Wildlife Pathologist Ward Stone recently said he was leaning towards a theory that the warmer weather is waking up the bats when they’re supposed to be hibernating. Bats were being reported flying around as recently as two weeks ago.
Stone has said the small mammals, which rely on bugs for sustenance, aren’t finding any and they exhaust themselves looking and die.
In an effort to assist wildlife officials, the NCC developed a “cave visit” log. The NCC is asking any cavers who visited Knox Cave, Gage Cave, Schoharie Caverns or Haile’s Cave since January 1, 2007, to log onto the NCC Web site at www.necaveconservancy.org and log their visits.
Focusing on these four caves will help scientists determine the impact of human activity on the hibernating bats.
Caves affected by the closure include Clarksville Cave, Ladder Cave, Knox Cave, Crossbones Cave, Ella Armstrong Cave and Onesquethaw Cave, all in Albany County, and Selleck’s Cave, Cave 575 and Levy’s Cave in Schoharie County.
These caves are in addition to those already shut down by the National Speleological Society, including Schoharie Caverns, Barton Hill or Gage’s Cave, McFail’s Cave Preserve, all in New York, and Tytoona Cave Perserve in Pennsylvania, according to the NCC.