All of a sudden, the U.S. Forest Service has decided that emergency measures are needed to save bat populations in the Forest Service's Northern Region. This means the Forest Service is unilaterally closing all caves to recreational caving for at least a year; educational groups may be kept out, too.
The reason given for this sudden, sweeping closure is that hibernating bats in another part of the country are being killed off by a spreading disease called White Nose Syndrome. The disease has not been detected here, and the closures would apply even to caves that do not contain hibernating bat colonies - as well as to caves populated by bats but inaccessible to humans.
And why the sudden emergency closure? This disease has been under study for years.
Nobody wants to see bats here stricken with a deadly disease - especially not to the extent it has struck bat colonies in at least 13 states in the East and Southeast, where White Nose Syndrome is believed to have killed at least a million bats since it was first detected in New York in 2006.
In the last few years the syndrome has been studied extensively but has not yet produced firm conclusions as to its causes. It is still unclear if humans are even capable of, let alone responsible for, transporting the disease from one cave to the next.
And if that turns out to be the case, Region 1 has already issued cave equipment decontamination orders to prevent the spread of the disease. Those conditions have been in effect since last fall, and seem like a sufficient response to a potential, but as yet unproven, threat to bats in the region.
The closures, on the other hand, seem like an overreaching government solution to a problem that doesn't exist. The Forest Service could certainly be spending its time in more constructive ways - like taking public comment on the "emergency" closures, which are set to start May 1.
The Forest Service should hear from the public about this, and the public should speak up, whether they are cavers or not.
EDITORIAL BOARD: Publisher Stacey Mueller, Editor Sherry Devlin, Opinion Editor Tyler Christensen, Sales and Marketing Director Jim McGowan