Happy 7th Annual Cave Week!

Each June the BLM, National Park Service, Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Parks Canada, and NASA celebrate caves and the unique resources found therein. This includes their geological, hydrological, cultural, and biological resources. Land managers and the public continue to celebrate caves via research, exploration, restoration, and recreation.

Billings Field Office Outdoor Recreation Planner and Cave and Karst Lead Alex Nancarrow kicked off this week by training six Montana Conservation Corps members on Single Rope Technique. This skill is used when cavers need to access difficult to reach areas in caves by rappelling or ascending on rope. Although there may be similar equipment used in rock climbing, cavers have developed specific harnesses, ascenders, and other equipment that is more suited for the damp, muddy, and rugged yet delicate cave environments.

A person in a harness hangs by a rope from an overhead support.
A member of the Montana Conservation Corps learns the Single Rope Technique which is used to access difficult sections of a cave. Later in June, the MCC will assist with a bat monitoring project in the Pryor Mountains. Photo by Brianna Rentschler/BLM

Later this month the Billings Field Office will work with Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks to continue a bat monitoring project in the Pryor Mountains. These employees will count the number of bats that fly out of the cave near sunset, count the number of bats roosting within the cave, and examine them to determine their species and if they have a disease called White Nose Syndrome (WNS).

WNS is caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans (or Pd), which thrives in cool, dark, wet environments and grows on the nose, wings, and other bare skin areas of hibernating bats. Bats that should be hibernating in the winter then become active and use up their fat needed to survive winter and die of starvation or exhaustion.

A bat with white fungus on its face.
White nose syndrome is caused by a fungus that grows on the nose, wings and other bare-skinned areas on hibernating bats. Photo by Marvin Moriarty/USFWS

The disease was first found on bats in New York in 2006 and has rapidly spread across the United States and Canada, killing an estimated four to five million bats. WNS was first found in Montana in 2021 and within the Pryor Mountains in 2023. This disease can be found around the world but is only known to affect bats in North America, with some caves and bats in Mexico being at high risk.

The scientific research being conducted is an important way that your land managers are working to monitor the health of bats on public land. Before you visit a cave, it is critical that you decontaminate any clothing, footwear, and other gear you bring with you for the safety of the bats that call the cave home.

For the most up to date information on WNS and decontamination procedures please visit https://www.whitenosesyndrome.org/.

How will you be celebrating cave week?

Alex Nancarrow, Outdoor Recreation Planner

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