Open Season for 2021 Caving Season Project Proposals

The BLM Roswell Field Office is now accepting project work and scientific proposals for the 2021 caving season for caves within the Roswell Field Office boundaries. The proposal format and criteria is located HERE. All proposals must be received by January 7, 2021.

2021 Fort Stanton Cave Update and other important Information!

2020 has been a year of challenges! Foremost on everyone’s mind has been the SARS-CoV-2, or Covid-19, pandemic. This pandemic has caused everyone to reevaluate how they go about their everyday lives including volunteering and leisure activities. Even before the 2020 caving season could officially start, we were experiencing lockdowns and other restrictions. The question we at the BLM were faced with was could we continue to host volunteers safely. Working closely with a great management staff we looked at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and State recommendations to build a robust Covid-19 protocol for bunkhouse visitation and another protocols for caving. These protocols erred on the side of caution, incorporating strict social distancing, a two-week self-quarantine before any trips, robust decontamination of surfaces, and only using volunteers in low risk demographics. Large expeditions were canceled in favor of small teams volunteering. The BLM thanks the volunteers who worked at Ft Stanton Cave this season, and those who supported us from afar. 

In February, we were able to conduct our annual winter bat census. 600 bats were counted and there were no signs of mortality. Our White Nose Syndrome sampling trip was canceled, which was scheduled in mid-April. In early May, our protocols were deemed robust enough to do a trip and adjust as needed. On May 14, scientists from New Mexico Tech and the BLM installed an evaporimeter at Inscription Rock. This trip was also used to check on water levels in Conrad’s Passage, which were measured at 4 inches at the base of the steps. In mid-September, we did a second trip to the evaporimeter to check on it. It was functioning as designed, but we discovered some calcite growth on the inside of the pan and on the float. These were cleaned off. Over a three-day period in late July, a three-person team conducted a precision elevation survey from the surface to Sewer Pipe Landing. The survey connects a known elevation on the surface with Turtle Junction. A restoration team led trips in late August, September, and October to repair formations in the Pool Fingers Room. Over a dozen formations were repaired, and many more were cleaned and prepared for future repair. In Mid-September, a trip was led to Babb’s Burrow to evaluate problem spots on the route to the entrance for the rescue plan. In mid-September and early October, two exploration trip we mounted. The first trip fixed magic carpets out to Bliss Borehole, replaced data loggers, and finished the survey connecting Bliss Borehole to Snowy River Passage. This trip also found and mapped the Black Rock Bypass passage. The second trip collected samples in Black Rock Bypass for the University of New Mexico and the U.S. Geological Survey, repaired magic carpets from Bliss to Rough Country, and surveyed another 2,000 feet of new passage in the Letdown area. The two survey trips added to the overall length of Fort Stanton Cave, bringing the total length to 42.24 miles. A total of 46 entries were made in Fort Stanton Cave during the 2020 calendar year. Once again, great work by all the cavers who came and volunteered their time. 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s (NOAA) long-range forecast for December, January, and February calls for warmer temperatures and below normal precipitation. The February, March, and April forecast is predicted to be warmer than normal and dryer than normal. If a milder and dryer winter does occur, there is a good chance that caving will resume on Snowy River in May. However, this is the same forecast NOAA predicted for last spring and there was flooding in Snowy River. The BLM will assess the situation as it progresses.

Looking forward to the 2021 caving season, we will cautiously evaluate the status of the pandemic and plan accordingly. If deemed appropriate, a reconnaissance/assessment trip will occur in mid-April to determine the condition of the Cave as well as the status of bat hibernation. We will also recover data logger data from Snowy River, which will determine which trips will move forward.

The Roswell Field Office would like to see a variety of proposals for 2021. Our aim is to have increased entries (350) to Fort Stanton Cave and approved survey beyond the National Conservation Area boundaries. This process is moving forward with a few more hoops to jump through this winter. If Snowy River becomes flooded again, the focus of work will be in the historic part of the Cave. In the historic part of the Cave, priority will be given to proposals that offer to cleanup old survey and restoration. There will be several entries set aside for these types of trips.

Trips that were not able to occur during the 2015-2020 caving seasons, due to flooding or being backup trips, will need to submit a short update during the open proposal period. This update should have the same title as the original proposal, and contain a short statement about your desire to attempt the trip during the upcoming caving season, as well as any updated information or trip details, including the new proposed trip date and any changes in personnel. These trips will be the first group of trips to be reviewed in filling out the roster of Snowy River trips. The Snowy River trips that were approved for 2015- 2020 have a high likelihood of going forward in 2021 and are considered pre-approved by the New Mexico Cave Management Team. However, they will be reviewed to see if they still fulfill BLM objectives for Fort Stanton Cave, or could be displaced by higher priority trips. 

With the uncertain nature and duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, the BLM will inform proposal authors closer to their intended trip dates which safety protocols will be in place. The BLM wants to provide a quality volunteer experience that is safe for both our volunteers and staff. Please include a section in your proposal on how you plan to mitigate COVID-19 concerns. This includes surface and in-Cave protocols. 

If you are writing a proposal to do science in the Cave, and you are not a subject matter expert, the BLM recommends that you have a subject matter expert work with you and co-author your proposal. If you anticipate needing to collect samples, please mention that you are also applying for a sample collection permit.

New proposals for historic portions of the Cave and Snowy River will be reviewed by the BLM Roswell Field Office Cave Specialist. If the proposal is recommended to move forward in the process, it will then be passed on to the New Mexico Cave Management Team for their recommendations. The BLM Roswell Field Office Manager will be responsible for final approval of all proposals.

PLEASE READ THE ENTIRE PROPOSAL CRITERIA SHEET! Take note of the email address in which to send the proposal. Please be sure to include ALL required information in your proposal.  Failure to do so means that your proposal will not be considered.

All proposals must be received by January 7, 2021.

The proposal format and criteria is located HERE.

Contact Information

Knutt Peterson
Outdoor Recreation Planner - Cave & Karst Specialist