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Spelunkers Protect Hibernating Bats

Improving the entrance gate.

The Cody Field Office and a group of caving enthusiasts worked together to protect a colony of hibernating bats in a cave near Lovell, Wyo. Spence Cave, used as a hibernation and summer roost site by Townsend's big-eared, big brown and little brown bats, has been subject to habitat disturbances for many years. Bonfires during the 1980s and 1990s killed hibernating bats.

A 1999 cooperative project involving the BLM, Wyoming Game and Fish, Bat Conservation International, and regional and local caving group volunteers constructed a restrictive but bat-friendly entrance gate at Spence Cave to protect bat habitat and curb the vandalism of cave resources. The gate allows for seasonal recreational use.

BLM staff and volunteers from Part Time Grotto, a group of spelunking enthusiasts who frequent caves in the area, recently rebuilt and installed modifications to the entrance gate to allow for proper seasonal closures of the cave.

Any disturbance to hibernating bats has the potential to harm them. "If the bats are disturbed while they’re hibernating," said BLM Cave Specialist Bryan McKenzie, "they expend energy that they wouldn’t normally have to expend during the winter. It weakens them."

Bart Adolf, who assisted with the project, says that Part Time Grotto volunteers for such projects because of their love for the sport and the resource. "We want the caves to be clean and healthy so we teach cave ethics to others and help with cleanups," Adolf said.

Part Time Grotto has partnered with the BLM on several projects over the years to help protect and further explore cave resources. Past projects have included cave cleanup, restoration, survey and mapping. "We are happy that Bryan is actively engaged in these activities and cares about the resource and we're always glad to lend a hand," said Adolf. "We provide input on decisions that are made and feel like we are making a difference."

Adolf has been caving for 50 years. His dad took him into Horsethief Cave with flashlights and a Coleman lantern in 1960 when he was seven years old. He was involved with a small spelunking group in high school and has been mapping and exploring caves ever since.

"Volunteers from local caving groups are vital to the management and protection of cave resources on public land," said McKenzie. "They are a valuable partner because they are familiar with and know the local history of the caves in the area."

Photos and captions:  www.blm.gov/wy/st/en/info/news_room/2010/november/05cyfo-bats.html

Last updated: 12-22-2010