A 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.
The Northeastern Cave Conservancy on Sunday voted to close down its caves to visitation both to relieve any stress on hibernating bats and to address the possibility cavers themselves could be spreading the affliction that’s being called “white nose syndrome.”
NCC publicity chairwoman Christa Hay on Wednesday said 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 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.
The white nose syndrome, characterized by a white fungus growing around the bats’ nose area, led officials to consider the possibility the fungus itself is responsible for the die-off, believed to have occurred when the bats were hibernating.
But state Wildlife Pathologist Ward Stone recently said he’s considering the possibility that unusually warm winter weather, not the fungus, is causing the die-off. Stone pointed to temperature fluctuations that could fool bats, stirring them early from hibernation.
People as recently as two weeks ago reported seeing bats flying around.
Stone theorized that the small mammals, which rely on bugs for sustenance, aren’t finding any this time of year and they exhaust themselves searching and then die.
In an effort to assist wildlife officials, the NCC developed a “cave visit” log.
The NCC is asking any cavers who visited Haile’s Cave or Knox Cave, both in Albany County, or Gage Cave or Schoharie Caverns, both in Schoharie County, since Jan. 1, 2007, to log onto the NCC Web site and list their visits.
The Web site is located at www.necaveconservancy.org.
Focusing on these four caves could help scientists determine the impact of human activity on the hibernating bats.
Caves affected by the NCC 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, all in Schoharie County, according to the NCC.
These caves are in addition to those already advised for closure by the National Speleological Society elsewhere in New York, including McFail’s Cave Preserve, and in Pennsylvania, including Tytoona Cave Preserve.
Hay said the NCC has typically urged cavers to avoid Albany County’s Knox Cave in the winter each year to avoid disturbing hibernating bats.
Hay said aside from ardent cavers, most people don’t plan cave excursions during the winter, so the closure may not be a huge imposition.
“Actually, it’s mostly a quiet time for the general cavers. People who are traveling in, they’ll be waiting for spring,” Hay said.