Caves on state lands in Tennessee will remain closed in an effort to slow the spread of White Nose Syndrome among the state's bat population.
During the upcoming year, state and Federal agencies and non-governmental organizations will consult with recreational caving organizations to determine how to best manage the spread of this disease while allowing recreation.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture initially agreed to close all caves on public property beginning July 1, 2009.
The Nature Conservancy has also agreed to follow the state's lead to extend the closure on all caves located on Conservancy property.
This action closes public access to all caves, sinkholes, tunnels and abandoned mines on land owned by the these state agencies. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, U.S. Forest Service and Tennessee Valley Authority have also closed caves on their lands to public access.
As the summer season approaches, it is important to note that these closures do not affect in any way caves that are located on privately owned lands, including commercial caves that are popular recreational destinations.
White Nose Syndrome is named for a white fungus that appears on the faces, ears, wings and feet of hibernating bats. Scientists are trying to understand the effects and manner of spread of this disease. Once a colony is affected, the fungus spreads rapidly and may kill 90 or more percent of bats at the hibernation site in just two years.
Scientists believe the affliction is primarily spread bat-to-bat as they cluster in caves and mines, but that it may also be unknowingly transferred from one cave or mine to another on the footwear, clothing and gear of humans visiting caves. Infected caves and mines may not show obvious signs of its presence.
Tennessee's first positive case in a cave was recorded in February 2010, in Sullivan County. More occurrences have been recorded since then, including this year. The Great Smoky Mountain National Park has also documented the syndrome in a cave in the park.
In addition to the public land cave closure, the partner agencies/organizations encourage recreational cavers to use the latest decontamination procedures when visiting caves on private lands.
The procedures and other information can be found at http://www.fws.gov/whitenosesyndrome/. Scientists that are conducting important research in caves on state lands should consult the responsible agency for access to any caves of importance to their research.