Nashville, TN – Caves located on state lands in Tennessee will remain closed in an effort to slow the spread of White Nose Syndrome (WNS) 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 maintaining high quality recreation.
State land holding agencies including 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 1st, 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 TWRA, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and the TDA Division of Forestry. The Great Smokey 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 for Tennesseans and visitors to our state.
White Nose Syndrome, or WNS, is named for a white fungus that appears on the faces, ears, wings and feet of hibernating bats. Scientists are trying to determine 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 WNS 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 WNS positive cave was recorded in February 2010, in Sullivan County. Additional occurrences were recorded in 2010 and 2011. The Great Smoky Mountain National Park has also documented WNS in a cave within the National Park.
In addition to the public land cave closure, the partner agencies/organizations encourage recreational cavers to utilize the latest decontamination procedures when visiting caves on private lands. Decontamination procedures and other information on WNS 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.