Hopes For Indiana Bat Rise and Fall at Indiana's Cave River Valley
By Lori Pruitt
Bloomington ES Field Office
Four years ago, conservation partners in Indiana were celebrating the acquisition of a significant new property. The State of Indiana, using a federal grant under the Endangered Species Act and, with help from The Nature Conservancy, acquired Cave River Valley.
As the name implies, the 300-plus-acre property includes multiple caves, including Endless and River caves. Both are incredibly scenic and support significant cave resources, including several globally rare cave species. The property also supports limestone glade remnants, a rare natural community in Indiana.
Particularly, the importance of the area for the federally endangered Indiana bat was a key incentive for the acquisition. Endless Cave was considered to have high potential by Indiana bat experts, but the site was heavily visited by people, even during the winter hibernation period. This disturbance was a threat to the resident bat population.
Endless Cave was gated in the summer of 2009, and expectations were high that eliminating the winter disturbance would lead to recovery of the Indiana bat population. The cave was also one of the best sites in the state for hibernating little brown bats, which were also expected to benefit from the protection of the site.
Unfortunately expectations were dampened by the rapid spread of white-nose syndrome (WNS) – a disease of hibernating bats that has killed an estimated 5 to 6 million bats since 2006 (for more information see http://www.whitenosesyndrome.org/). In January 2011, WNS was confirmed in Endless Cave, the first cave in Indiana to have a documented case of WNS.
Despite the arrival of WNS at Endless Cave, partners involved in the property remain resolute to do everything possible to conserve bats at this site. Monitoring is underway at the site to help track the progression of WNS and to help understand and manage this deadly bat disease.
Service and state biologists recently visited Cave River Valley to perform some needed maintenance on the Endless Cave gate and to check on monitoring equipment at the site. It was a beautiful October day and the scenery as we hiked into the valley was nothing short of spectacular. We were reminded of all the reasons we had to conserve this property and all it has to offer to visitors.
The State has plans to expand recreational opportunities at this site, including camping and picnicking, as funding becomes available. Visitors are sure to enjoy what they find there. Project partners are pleased that the public will have the opportunity to enjoy this beautiful natural treasure. Bat surveys this winter will tell us what toll WNS has taken on the bats that inhabit these caves. We remain hopeful that bats will continue to take refuge in the caves of Cave River Valley.