News Release 430

Devil’s Icebox tours at Rock Bridge Memorial State Park cancelled for fall season

Volume 38-430 (For Immediate Release)
Contact: Judd Slivka
573-751-1010

JEFFERSON CITY, MO. JULY 28, 2010 – The fall wild cave tours through Devil’s Icebox Cave in Rock Bridge Memorial State Park near Columbia have been cancelled to protect the cave’s bats, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources announced today.

The fall cave tours, scheduled for Aug. 1 through Oct. 8, were cancelled to help reduce the risk of spreading white-nose syndrome, a fungus that is killing bats. The disease, found mainly in the eastern United States, spread westward this winter and was discovered recently in three caves in Missouri. Although the disease seems to be spread primarily by the bats themselves, scientists believe restricting public access to certain caves will help reduce the risk that spores clinging to clothing or gear of cave visitors might accelerate the spread of the fungus into presently unaffected caves, including Devil’s Icebox.

Devil’s Icebox Cave is recognized as one of Missouri’s most biologically rich cave systems with multiple vulnerable bat species, including two federally endangered species. Wild cave tours through Devil’s Icebox were previously allowed during the spring and fall when the risk of disturbing bats was the least. This year, the spring tours were reduced to two weekends to help protect the gathering gray bats from disturbance and because of the possibility of white-nose syndrome. With the discovery of the fungus in three Missouri caves, the fall tours are being cancelled to further reduce possible introduction of the fungus into Devil’s Icebox and any of its cave species. A decision about whether to allow the spring 2011 tours will be made this winter. All individuals who have expressed an interest in the fall tours will be notified.

The cancelling of the tours is in keeping with the department’s cave closure policy in response to white-nose syndrome. According to the policy, the public routes in the park system’s four major tour caves will remain open but most wild caves that harbor bats remain temporarily closed to the public.

This cave closure policy, first announced in May, has been extended until Sept. 1 while the department works with other resource agencies to develop a comprehensive statewide plan for management of this issue.

“We realize how popular these tours are but Devil’s Icebox is highly significant and is a biologically rich cave. We must do what we can to minimize the spread of the disease and protect our resources,” said Bill Bryan, director of the department’s Division of State Parks. “Our agency will continue to work with other resource agencies to learn what we can about this issue and how to manage it while still providing some access to the public,” he said.

The park system’s four major tour caves that remain open are Onondaga Cave and Cathedral Cave at Onondaga Cave State Park; Fisher Cave at Meramec State Park; and Ozark Caverns at Lake of the Ozarks State Park. Screening measures are in place for people wanting to tour the caves to reduce the risk of transferring the fungus. These measures include requesting that clothing, shoes or accessories worn recently in any other cave not be worn on the tours.

For more information about Missouri state parks and historic sites, go to mostateparks.com. For more information on white-nose syndrome, go to fws.gov/WhiteNoseSyndrome/.

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