Press Release – Registration is required to enter four caves in the Bighorn National Forest. The four caves – Big Piney, Cliff Dweller’s, Eaton’s, and Tongue River – are located in the Tongue Ranger District. People wanting to enter the caves are required to complete a registration form and follow decontamination procedures.
The Bighorn National Forest is home to seven species of bats. Bats play important roles in the earth’s ecosystems by eating insects, pollinating plants, and dispersing seeds to regenerate forests.
The registration and decontamination strategy was developed based on concern about the spread of a fungus that is deadly to bats. White-nose syndrome was introduced in the northeastern United States and has been found in bat hibernation sites in 31 states and five Canadian provinces. Since 2006, white-nose syndrome has killed over five million bats in the United States. Although the disease has not yet been found in Wyoming, it was recently discovered in eastern Nebraska. Based on the continued progression of white-nose syndrome, the Forest Service management approach includes proactive measures to limit the likelihood of introducing the fungus to caves in Wyoming and to protect bat populations before the disease arrives.
The four caves are closed every year from October 15 through April 15 to protect hibernating bats from disturbance. When hibernating bats are roused, they fly around, expending energy they need to survive the winter, at a time when bats can’t find insects to eat to replenish their strength.
Registration is required to enter the caves from April 16 through October 14. The cave registration system involves submitting basic personal information (name, email address, zip code) and information about the cave trip (date, cave name, national forest, number of participants). The completed form is emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Authorized registration forms are generally processed and returned within seven business days.
Decontamination refers to cleaning clothing and equipment to prevent accidentally spreading the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome, greatly reducing the likelihood of moving the pathogen from one site to another. A summary of decontamination procedures is provided with approved cave access registration forms.
The special order describing the prohibitions and restrictions on cave access is available on the Bighorn’s website at http://bit.ly/2rzLkh5. Violators can be fined up to $10,000, imprisoned for up to six months, or both.
The Bighorn’s most popular cave is the Tongue River Cave. Gates and signs installed at the cave’s entrance have been vandalized and destroyed. This fall, the Bighorn National Forest and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department will install a new, bat-friendly gate at the Tongue River Cave.
Maps of the Tongue River Cave are available at the Tongue Ranger District office in Sheridan.
Do your part to help protect the Bighorn’s bats. Learn more about bats at www.batcon.org and white-nose syndrome and the Forest Service’s efforts to protect these important animals at http://bit.ly/2rBRuMK.