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CBD attempts to make all caving and some climbing illegal in USA
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amoses


Jan 23, 2010, 11:51 PM
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CBD attempts to make all caving and some climbing illegal in USA
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Iím not certain how extensive the implications will be for climbing access, but I think it is important that all climbers know what is going on. Since a bat epidemic known as White Nose Syndrome was discovered just over 3 years ago, the National Speleological Society has been hard at work to research what has become the greatest wildlife epidemic in US history and to has worked with the government to find sensible and productive ways to deal with the problem as best we can. Now the Center for Biological Diversity has stepped in a sent a petition to Congress that would limit recreational opportunities for Americans, negatively impact the economy, and hamper important cave research and conservation efforts. Here is a link to the CBDís press release: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/press_releases/2010/bats-01-21-2010.html

Itís hard to guess whether attempts could be made to apply this proposed legislation to chimneys and overhangs, but it would certainly apply to approaches and climbs that pass through features that legitimately qualify as caves. The Fern Point ladders at the New River Gorge are one such case that comes to mind. This would essentially make any entry of any cave in the United States illegal with severe punishments. Punishment would not be restricted to the persons entering the cave, but the owner would be charged as well. Consider the access implications for privately owned sandstone or limestone cliffs with caves in the area.

As a result of the threat to landowners, it is to be expected that many will bulldoze, concrete, or fill their entrances with trash to protect themselves from criminal prosecution. This would destroy the bat habitat and remove the food supply for other endangered critters inside. If you donít think thatís a significant threat, look up the story of Nutty Putty cave. That unfortunately happens to caves frequently and without any media coverage.

Cave researchers would not be able to work without ďtakeĒ permits and could be required to spend $1,000 or more on ropes, harnesses, and other equipment that they would then be forced to throw away after exiting the cave. This would make continued research infeasible and take away our hope of finding a solution to WNS.

This would also prevent the work of cavers to take the public underground and teach them about cave conservation. It would be illegal for us to take a cave owner below his property and show him why he shouldnít throw his used motor oil and batteries into sinkholes.

Though it may not cause a stock market crash, shutting down every commercial caving operation, from small guiding services to major commercial caves such as Carlsbad, Wind, Jewel, and Mammoth is not something our economy needs.

All of this has come after the NSS has found through research that human transmission is unlikely even with non-decontaminated gear. We have also developed means of safely and effectively decontaminating our equipment, which I and other eastern cavers utilize regularly. In addition, we have proven bat to bat transmission and found that the patterns of WNS spread suggest that bat to bat transmission is the primary or sole vector.

I hope all climbers will consider making their thoughts known to the CBD, the federal agencies they petitioned, and any friends and family who might be contributors to the CBD. If you would like to help the NSS in its fight to control WNS and save Americaís bats, please see this page to learn how to help: http://www.caves.org/WNS/Rapid_Response.shtml

Thank you for your interest in this issue,
Aaron Moses


healyje


Jan 24, 2010, 4:14 AM
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Registered: Aug 22, 2004
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Re: [amoses] CBD attempts to make all caving and some climbing illegal in USA [In reply to]
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As Aaron's post states, White Nose Syndrom (WNS) is an emergent (2006) population decline associated with decimated bat populations in the NE US. It is always associated with the presence of a fungal agent (Geomyces destructans). The phenomena has been spreading rapidly from cave-to-cave radiating out from the NE.

Who cares? Bats represent a significant percentage of mammalian biodiversity and are essential to the overall ecology of our nation. They are are necessary pollinators and interact with insect ecologies in fundamental ways. Moreover, WNS represents a new and third leg ecological 'mystery' joining Honey Bees (2006 - Colony Collapse Disorder) and Amphibian declines (late 80's - Yosemite and the Sierras played a big role in that discovery) which are also both suffering significant declines. The exact causitive agent is not yet known or understood in any of the three population declines, but similar to Amphibian decline, in WNS an associated fungal agent presents itself where where declines occur. It is not known in either case if the fungus is a symptom or the cause. But, taken together, and from a 'canary in a coal mine' perspective, these three rapid population declines among insect, amphibian, and mammalian species are quite troubling.

The transmission of WNS is thought to be primarily bat-to-bat, however, there are some indicators in cave-to-cave transmission patterns that suggest at least some of the transmission is by humans. The problem with a fungal infection is that sensitive cave environments share a lot in common with a petri dish of nutrients such that once swabbed with an infectious agent the damage is likely done and can't be undone.

At this point I must take several exceptions with Aaron's statement:

In reply to:
All of this has come after the NSS (National Speleological Society) has found through research that human transmission is unlikely even with non-decontaminated gear. We have also developed means of safely and effectively decontaminating our equipment, which I and other eastern cavers utilize regularly. In addition, we have proven bat to bat transmission and found that the patterns of WNS spread suggest that bat to bat transmission is the primary or sole vector.

The NSS has risen to the crises with roughly $40k in six research grants and NSS has designated WNS Liasons with science backgrounds to join the fray. One problem with the statement above, however, that the science is really just getting off the ground, and the NSS (or anyone else) hasn't "found" or "proven" anything yet regarding human transmission or the effectiveness of decontamination protocols. What has been shown is that, working with New England Ropes, that at least one of the decontamination protocols does not damage ropes or slings - but that in no way proves the effectiveness of that protocol itself in preventing contamination. I don't believe any of the NSS WNS Liasons would substantiate these statements at this time.

Anyone who's had a fungal infection can attest to how hardy fungal spores are - they are extremely hardy - and because any means of truly sterilizing gear would ruin it, there exists significant doubt that any decontamination protocol can truly be effective on porous materials like clothing and ropes. Because of this, protocols are being proposed and implemented to restrict the use of contaminated clothing or gear to contaminated caves - i.e. don't use contaminated clothing or gear in an uncontaminated cave regardless of decontamination protocols - once gear and clothing enters a contaminated cave it becomes 'dedicated'. From a microbiology and mycology perspective, and knowing the hardiness of fungal spores, this is a very sensible preventitive protocol.

Aaron further complains:

In reply to:
This would also prevent the work of cavers to take the public underground...

I don't know whether Aaron has any commercial interest in caving, but given the current crisis, I would have to note that, contrary to his assertion, maybe this isn't the time to be "taking the public underground". I can certainly empathize with cavers relative to the harshness of potential large-scale access restrictions and costs posed in response to this crisis - but caves are a uniquely isolated and sensitive ecologies and we are essentially talking about applying infectious disease protocols to them in an attempt to halt the spread of WNS. And though it is entirely possible that some cave-like climbing areas will be impacted and closed in response to this crisis, erring on the side of caution while we ramp up the research seems entirely warranted to me given the limited nature of the resource and the predominant role caves play as bat habitat.

I'd love to hear PTPP's comments on the issue and have emailed the NSS WNS Liaisons to verify NSS support, in part or in whole, for Aaron's statement above. But for me this statement strikes me as an unwarranted attempt to sow fear, uncertainty and doubt among climbers relative to the issue.


(This post was edited by healyje on Jan 24, 2010, 4:58 AM)


iching


Jan 24, 2010, 4:49 AM
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Re: [healyje] CBD attempts to make all caving and some climbing illegal in USA [In reply to]
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I agree with Joeseph.
This is probably a good time to error towards caution before more is known.


amoses


Jan 24, 2010, 9:29 AM
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Re: [healyje] CBD attempts to make all caving and some climbing illegal in USA [In reply to]
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Iíll do my best to respond to your issues with my statement. I can not claim to be an expert on WNS, but Iíve tried to keep myself up to date. By looking into it further, as you said you are, youíll likely find that essentially all of the points I tried to make were taken from the words of Peter Youngbaer who has headed up the NSSís research campaign and is one of the most knowledgeable people on the subject. Youíll also find that the NSS is in the process of formally expressing disapproval of the CBDís actions.

I am certainly not arguing that action should not be taken to deal with WNS, I fully support the combined work of the NSS and the USFWS to determine the most appropriate actions. They have been taking action on this for quite some time through closures on federal and NSS owned land as well as voluntary moratoriums on caving on private land and most importantly, through education.

The point I was trying to make is that I and all those I know who are more knowledgeable than myself see reason to believe the actions of the CBD will do more harm than good for the bats as well as causing other problems. If these actions were sensible and appropriate, they would have been taken over a year ago. The primary issue is the threat to land owners. For most of them, caves are already nothing but trouble, and from my experience, they tend not to be fond of the government telling them what to do. And the threat of caves being filled in for fear of trouble is a very real one that cavers struggle to deal with. With tens of thousands of caves on private land, this could be a very substantial loss of not only bats, but also the creatures the bats support. I can not imagine supporting such a loss to try to prevent something that we have good reason to doubt would actually happen (caves being infected by human transmission).

When WNS first showed up here in the Virginias, we all thought it meant that humans had spread it across long distances. With increasing knowledge, many opinions, including my own, have changed. The first piece of evidence was that the spread of WNS southward was not a ďjumpĒ, but a string of infected sites running through PA down to SW VA along migratory routes. Several of the sites composing the string of infections were gated caves and mines without human access. The next piece of evidence came from research funded by the NSS. Though little has yet been formally published, a great deal of work has been accomplished by researchers, and announcements occasionally trickle through the forums and email lists. Shortly after the NSS first began to put our research money to use, a scientist who was studying the limits of conditions in which the fungus can grow or survive as a spore announced that he thought human transmission was very unlikely as a result of its extreme sensitivity to heat and UV radiation. Possibly the most compelling evidence in my mind is the confirmation that WNS is from Europe where it has been noted as far back as organized cavers have explored Europeís caves. If human transmission was a significant risk with cleaned but non-decontaminated gear and clothing, WNS would have been here decades ago. Cavers are just as fond of flying across the pond with their gear as climbers. The effectiveness of decontamination is shown through laboratory procedures to determine the chemical tolerances of the fungus and then adding a factor of safety to the exposure time. Because water is much more pervasive than fungus spores, by dunking and shaking about gear in chemical solution for an extended amount of time, we can be reasonably certain that any spores will be subject to conditions very similar to those in the laboratory. Iíll be quick to say that human transmission is possible, but when decontamination is added to an already unlikely event, it seems reasonable that we shouldnít take measures that are costly in so many ways.

I apologize if my post was fear mongering. Iíve been very concerned about WNS for a couple years now. As a member of the NSS and supporter of its mission to do what we can to protect caves, bats, and other cave inhabitants, it does scare me to see our efforts come under attack from a team of lawyers who show no interest in learning the details of cave conservation. It is not a subject that I can write about without some degree of emotional involvement. I also hope that I was clear in stating that I donít know if this would have any significant impact on climbing access, it just seems to me that there is potential.

Aaron Moses


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