GF&P: Protect The Bat Cave

Dec 26, 2012

The South Dakota Game Fish and Parks is asking the Forest Service to hold off on opening up a road that is close to a sensitive bat cave.

A spelunker makes his way through Jewel Cave in the Black Hills. Some Black Hills caves are home to sensitive species of bats and state GF&P officials want them protected.

The forest road is currently closed to motorized traffic in the wintertime to support wildlife habitat in the area.  

But adjacent private landowners are asking for year round easement.

The road passes next to Erskine Cave, which is home to several species of sensitive bats.  In 2003 government agencies paid for the construction of a large steel gate over the cave entrance to keep the public out during the winter months.   GF&P officials like Biologist Shelly Deisch say the proposal for year round access to the forest road near the cave may violate the Federal Cave Resources Protection Act. 

“The worst time of the year that you can interrupt bats is during hibernation in the winter.  They cannot be disturbed one single event by a very innocent person going into a cave can harm the bats in a way that they either die or not make it through to the spring,” says Deisch. 

She goes on to add "Any unnecessary disturbance to a cave that harbors a wide diversity of hibernating bats can be a death sentence for those bats, which that loss, will in fact, impact the local bat population.  That is not an exaggeration, I wished it was.  Bats that hibernate in this particular cave are year-round residents.  We do not know how or if bats from outside the Black Hills move into this area to become year-round residents.  And, bats have only one off-spring a year (very low individual reproductive output).  Monitoring indicates bat abundance and diversity is dropping at this cave.  We don’t know why.  For these reasons, its best to manage their habitats, and activities adjacent to this particular cave, as if “'this is all we have'”.  This can be a challenge when other public land uses and access through public lands must also be considered."

The GF&P contends other forest roads in the area could be used to allow private landowners access without using the road adjacent to Erskine Cave.  State officials are also requesting a field trip to the site with Forest Service personnel to examine the area.