News Release 280

Most Missouri state park caves will close temporarily to protect bats from disease; major tour caves will remain open

Volume 38-280 (For Immediate Release)
Contact: Judd Slivka
573-751-1010

JEFFERSON CITY, MO, MAY 6, 2010 -- Most caves in Missouri state parks and historic sites will be closed temporarily to the public in an effort to reduce the risk of spreading a disease affecting bats, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources announced today. The system's four major tour caves will remain open but certain precautions will be established.   

White-nose syndrome is a fungus that has devastated bats throughout northeastern United States and was discovered recently in a cave in Pike County, Missouri.  Restricting public access to certain caves will help reduce the risk of any people-born transmission of the fungus from cave to cave.

Caves affected by the new policy include wild caves commonly used by bats. The only immediate exception will be caves or purposes determined to be low risk to bats, such as interpretive tours for school groups in certain caves. All other access will be restricted and by permit only.

The state park system's four major tour caves -- Onondaga Cave and Cathedral Cave at Onondaga Cave State Park, Fisher Cave at Meramec State Park, and Ozark Caverns at Lake of the Ozarks State Park -- will remain open to the public. Staff will implement screening measures for people wanting to tour the cave to further reduce the risk.

"We realize closing our bat caves will be an inconvenience for many cave explorers but we feel this is the best interim measure to protect bats and our cave ecosystems from a serious threat. We will work with other agencies and cave organizations to learn more about how this disease spreads, and hopefully find reasonable and safe ways to resume recreational, interpretative and scientific access in the future," said Bill Bryan, director of the department's Division of State Parks. 

This policy will take effect immediately and will be reviewed July 15 or sooner if the circumstances within the state warrant it. The new policy has been made in consultation with other resource agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Missouri Department of Conservation. Other resource agencies, including MDC and the U.S. Forest Service, have also taken steps to close caves on their property. The agencies, including the Department of Natural Resources, will begin work June 1 on a comprehensive Statewide White-Nose Syndrome Action Plan to address management of this issue.  

Researchers are still learning about WNS, which was first discovered in New York in 2006. The disease causes infected bats to awaken more often during their winter hibernation and fly outside in search of food. This activity uses up stored fat reserves needed to get them through the winter and they usually freeze or starve to death. According to Bat Conservation International, WNS has killed more than a million bats in 11 states and Canada. Bats are major predators of night-flying insects such as mosquitoes and can annually consume thousands of tons of insects. Bat droppings called guano provide nutrients to the cave's fragile ecosystem and form the base of the cave food pyramid.

Missouri is known to have more than 6,300 caves. There are 175 caves in 18 state parks and historic sites and these are the ones affected by the new Department of Natural Resources' policy. In addition to the four major tour caves, there were numerous caves in state parks that were being accessed through wild cave tours or through various permits.

To learn more about state parks and historic sites, visit mostateparks.com.

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