Friends of the Cave?
Michael McEachern
President,   Alpine Karst Foundation
Chairman, Northern Rocky Mountain Grotto

Over the years various organizations have been formed to help appreciate and preserve elements of our natural resources.  In some cases an organization appeals to government agencies to prevent the destruction of resources, in other cases, the goals of the organization may be to prevent government from destroying the resources. 

Litigation, civil disobedience, and cooperation are all tactics that can be used to achieve resource management goals.  All of these tactics have been used by cavers with various degrees of success to preserve caves and the karst landscape.  The application of these strategies in the past at Mammoth Cave, Oregon Caves, and the Stanislaus River karst have all produced useful outcomes.  These three cases will be examined and discussed as to their usefulness in the current WNS crisis in the the western US. 

Mammoth Cave
Sarah G. Bishop provided a description of the CRF law suit with Mammoth Cave.  “In June 1979, The Washington Committee on Mammoth Cave, consisting of representatives from the Cave Research Foundation, National Parks Conservation Association, The Wilderness Society, and other national conservation associations, filed suit in U.S. District Court in Washington, DC claiming that the Department of the Interior had acted arbitrarily and capriciously in allowing the continued pollution of Mammoth Cave from a sewage lagoon at the Great Onyx Job Corps Center, located in Mammoth Cave National Park.  William P. Bishop, a former Board Member of CRF, was an additional plaintiff.  After three years of negotiation between the plaintiffs and the defendant, and numerous depositions from several CRF joint venturers concerning the unsuitability of a karst plateau for the location of a sewage lagoon, the judge ordered the Job Corps Center closed and the site returned to its natural state. The Center was closed in November 1982 and site restoration begun at that time.  The Job Corps Center was subsequently moved to the far northeastern part of Mammoth Cave National Park in a location that would not impact the cave.”

Oregon Cave
Steve Knutson passed on the following personal account of dealing with the park service.
“ I worked for the NPS at Oregon Caves for many seasons in the 90's and observed heavy work going on in the cave, tour reconstruction, and no EIS, no supervision, and the workers were finding bones--paleontological material.  I asked the super why no EIS, and he said they didn't have to honor NEPA, and if they issued anything, it would be a categorical exclusion (a nepa doc, as it turns out, which doesn't apply if there is any dissenting voice).  This was a lie, but I didn't know.  Later, around 2000, I heard via the grapevine that they were going to do a spelunker tour right past the animal claw marks in the mud, in the back part of the cave, a very rare feature and one that clearly wouldn't survive such use.  I called and complained, and was given a runaround.   I called the EPA in Portland and was assured that the NPS indeed had to comply with NEPA, and I informed Oregon Caves. They issued a Categorical Exclusion.  I was pissed. I found a caver lawyer and got pro bono advice. Yes, he could file an injunction, not really expensive, but thought an environmental lawyer might do better. I contacted the Sierra Club and they said they were interested but too busy, and suggested the Cascade Resources Advocacy group. They took the case on half price. I got the NSS to at least tentatively agree to foot the bill (there is an NSS legal fund).  I might have to pay but I was pissed.  The NPS, however, faced with a court confrontation they would clearly lose (they were in violation of NEPA, no question), caved in and went thru an EA and finally agreed to leave the animal marks alone.”

Stanislaus River
The construction of the New Melones Dam on the Stanislaus River in California by the Corp of Engineers resulted in the inundation of significant karst resources, including a major cave, along with a favorite white water rafting run.  Friends of the River (FOR) was formed to generate public opposition to the plan.  FOR started as a signature gathering group seeking to preserve the river by ballot initiative.  FOR tactics changed when Mother Lode Grotto caver and river runner, Mark Debois took charge of the organization.  FOR became membership and donation based with civil disobedience accepted as a valid preservation tool.  In 1979 Mark Debois chained himself below the pool level of rising water of the dam forcing the governor of California to temporarily halt the filling of the reservoir. While FOR failed in saving the Stanislaus River, the organization has succeed in protecting other rivers.

Other cavers under the direction of Ralph Squire formed the New Melones Task Force to deal with the impact of the dam on the Stanislaus River Karst.  Their approach was to work with the Corp of Engineers to preserve the remaining karst which would not be inundated.   The Corp had a history of working with special interest groups like boaters that supported their projects.  In the case of cavers the Corp agreed to mitigate the lost of the inundated karst by expanding the take area to include additional privately held karst areas above the pool level.  As a result of this a number of caves in the area are now under federal protection.

The length that cavers will go to protect and preserve cave resources is best illustrated by the passage of the Federal Cave Protection Act of 1988.  FCPA took years of effort by cavers working with their Congressmen to get it passed.  Cavers were disappointed that only significant caves would be protected and not all caves.  Today cavers monitor eBay and protest sales of cave formations.

From these examples it can be seen that cavers are willing to use extreme civil disobedience, litigation, and cooperation to preserve caves and caving.  Since we want to save bats it seems like we should all be able to get along. 

A yellow sticker with three bats on it is the symbol that cavers use to identify themselves.  The yellow bat symbols are the most popular items sold by the NSS and part of every sale goes to to the Bat Research and Preservation Fund.  Cavers feel a deep connection with bats which is reflected in their purchase of bat caves specifically to save the bats.

Since wildlife preservationist, managers, bureaucrats, academic and student scientists, as well as cavers, all have a stake in protecting bats why are we fighting among ourselves?  The simple answer is we come from different backgrounds and have different world views. Many of the agency personnel who have been assigned to deal with the WNS crisis have little or no experience in caves or with bats.

It is worth while to look at some of the different view points to illuminate where conflicts can arise.

Manager -- We must do something.  The easiest way is to close all caves.  If we do it with an emergency order we don't even have to get public comments.  There aren't many cavers anyway.

Bureaucrat -- We will need a national coordinator, assistant coordinator, press person,
and at least seven regional WNS coordinators.  We can have meetings, make a plan (but make sure there in nothing in it to hold us responsible or measure results).  We have over 10 millions we can spend but we should probably throw a couple of million to research to KOA. 

Wildlife preservationist ­-- we must save all life forms.  We must stop natural selection.  We failed stopping the amphibian disease chytridiomycosis and might have been able to slow it if we had closed all streams and lakes for the decade it took us to learn about the disease.  By closing all caves, it it will help set a legal  precedent for wide-spread blanket closure of natural resources.  We must be sure to mention chytridiomycosis in the general principles of the National Cave Plan.

Academic/Student -- If I switch my subject from moths to bats I will have a better chance of getting grant money.

Caver -- Caves are my church.  It is where I go to recharge my batteries and find meaning in life.  I will do what ever I can to save them and the life in them.

Many agency personnel are college educated including many with advance degrees and research experience.  Most recognize the value of research and good maps and will support limited caving under a permit system for the benefit of science.  Some feel that the only caving allowed should be directly related to bat research and monitoring.  Clearly some caves will remain open to an elite group of caver scientists and biologists.

Where the greatest conflict exists between non-caver preservationist and caver preservationists is in recreational caving.  Recreational caving is devalued by some as a sport which could simply be replaced by climbing, running or some other activity.  The FCPA specifically lists recreation as one of the values of caves in addition to the scientific values.  Why do people go into caves and what is their real value? 

Many people feel a great sense of wonder when visiting a cave or when spending time with nature.  Groups like the Sierra Club and Friends of the River believe only through being in nature can you appreciate it and learn the importance of preserving wilderness.  That is why recreation is an important part of their programs.  John Muir was captivated by the underground experience and its importance in  understanding our place in the universe.  On emerging from a tour of Cave City Cave he writes
“When we emerged into the bright landscapes of the sun everything looked brighter, and we felt our faith in Nature’s beauty strengthened, and saw more clearly that beauty is universal and immortal, above, beneath, on land and sea, mountain and plain, in heat and cold, light and darkness.”

The greatest threat to caving comes from individuals and groups that see caves as useful analogs for other environmental battles.  Since caves are unique environments, like oceans, deserts, forests and mountains the ability to successfully close all caves to the public could become at power example to justify the closure of entire regions to protect wildlife.  Using “shock doctrine” principles, the devastating effect of WNS on some species of bats in one environmental region of the country is being projected to all bats and all regions of the country without the scientific evidence to support the claim.  Dire predictions are being used to spread fear backed by simple statements of “we just don't know” and “we can't take any chances”.

This shock doctrine approach is working because cavers as a group are just a small part of the population and majority of people do not feel like they will be personally affected.  The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and, unfortunately some federal agencies, are successfully molding public opinion through slanted press releases, to forward their own agendas.  Few people take the time to  examine the evidence or realize the heavy price they might have to some day pay for supporting blanket cave closures.  How will they feel when they aren't allowed to visit the ocean or the mountains or the forest?

There are many examples of the gross distortion of data, on national and regional levels, to get public support for cave closure.  Some early documents only mentioned human transmisson of WNS and disregard bat to bat transmission completely.   There is no mention of translocation of bats although the initial site is less than 40 miles from a deep water port and a published scientific report of the threat of bats introducing infection agents.  Mixing of bats in summer rousting sites is totally ignored when describing likely distances for bat to bat transfer over the year.   An opinion paper is described as a scientific study and absurd values for bats impact on pesticide are use to influence public opinion.  Data from Texas which has a cave with 20 million bats was used to calculate the bats influence in Montana where the largest bat cave has less than 2,000 bats.  This data was presented as fact to the public by the USFS region 1 in a request for public comments on baning recreational cave exploration.

Some of the actions taken by federal agencies clearly have not been thought out and are detrimental to caves and bats.  The USFWS termination of caver management of Fern Cave and Anderson Cave will greatly reduced the monitoring of those caves.  Already there are reports of meth labs being set up near Fern Cave.  The blanket closure of all caves in the Rocky Mountain Region of the USFS has resulted in western cavers no longer sharing information with the USFS.  The Mark Twain National Forest is using emergency procedures to avoid public comments on a 5 year blanket cave closure plan will that surely erode public support for the action.

The NSS has a legal fund and has been involved in court cases to defend cave owners.  Should the NSS take legal action to protect cave owners from poorly conceived Federal or state regulations aimed at controlling the spread of WNS?  Should the NSS take legal action to preserve the right of individual recreational use of caves on federal land without oppressive permitting requirements?  The NSS has stressed working cooperatively with Federal agencies and believes such an approach will result in the best outcome.  In recent meetings the NSS board has decided not to use litigation as a strategy to defend recreational caving.  The NSS seems more concerned about where in the East to build a new headquarters, than how closing caves on public lands in the West effectively outlaws caving for an entire region of the country.

Since  the NSS seems unwilling to utilize the full range of conservation tactics to preventing caving from been outlawed in the West, perhaps a new group willing to use less cooperative tactics is needed.
Would cavers support a group devoted to litigation and political activism?  Are there any cave lawyers that would be willing to step forward with legal advice pro bono publico?

It remains to be seen if cavers are willing to vigorously fight to preserve public caving in the West or will they simply settle in to being outlaws in a modern version of the wild west with their new motto “Cave Quietly.”