News: MAKC Proposal to Open Caves in 2010

October 19

MISSION

The Mid-Atlantic Karst Conservancy was established by Western Pennsylvania cavers in 1997 for the following purposes:

• Preserving, ensuring access to, acquiring, and managing caves and karst areas for conservation, scientific study, and recreational caving.
• Education of landowners, cavers, and the general public in the importance of caves and karst resources and ways to preserve them.

The MAKC supports research and monitoring of caves and cave fauna; however, our mission also includes preserving and ensuring access to these resources.

WNS

White Nose Syndrome (WNS) is a condition that has resulted in the deaths of hundreds-of-thousands of bats in the northeastern United States since 2006. The fungus, Geomyces destructans, grows at cold temperatures and colonizes the skin of animals in cold environments. This is consistent with properties predicted for a causative agent of WNS-associated cutaneous infection. More on WNS can found at http://www.fws.gov/northeast/white_nose.html.

In February of 2009, MAKC officers voted to close all preserves to allow for additional research into WNS, as well as, we thought, to help slow the spread of the fungus. In spite of that one-year moratorium, bats at our Hall Cave Preserve in Huntingdon County became infected. This closure was to be reevaluated quarterly, and it has been.

Based on WNS decontamination protocol developed and research developed in past year MAKC believes its cave preserves can be opened as long as the following procedures are strictly followed.

This proposal was approved at our February 20, 2010 board meeting.

MANAGEMENT

All MAKC preserves will open on April 15, 2010. Those with bat hibernation moratoriums will close on October 15.
The following protocols MUST be observed by all visitors to all preserves:

• All visitors to all preserves, on each and every trip, will bring only clean and disinfected cave gear, cleaned and disinfected for each visit, even if it is to the same cave on consecutive days or weeks. Please refer to the protocol for cleaning and disinfecting gear.
• For cavers coming from central Pennsylvania or other areas determined to have been infected with WNS, the MAKC recommends using caving gear dedicated to caving in WNS infected areas and caving gear dedicated to caving in WNS non-infected areas, i.e., two separate sets of caving gear.
• Visitors who disregard these protocols will be asked to leave and risk being prohibited from using MAKC preserves in the future.
• Preserves which the MAKC leases may or may not be open at the discretion of the property owner. Please check www.karst.org and contact the preserve manager before visiting.

PROTOCOLS

Decontamination protocol to reduce transmission of WNS by humans, as recommended by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is printed below:

• Geographic isolation of caving activity and/or gear: Cavers are requested to limit their caving activity to one caving area as defined by a county or group of counties. We are asking this because sterilization procedures are likely not 100% effective, especially since neither the specific causal agent nor mode of transmission has yet been definitively identified. Cavers choosing to cave in more than one of the defined caving areas are asked to dedicate a specific set of clothing and caving gear for each respective caving area. If you must go caving in multiple areas, complete disinfection of vehicles is recommended between trips to different areas. Special care should be taken to segregate any cave clothing and equipment dedicated for use in a given area from all other sets of clothing and equipment dedicated for use in other caving areas.

• Strict adherence to decontamination procedures when moving between caves (even within the same geographically designated area). After exiting one cave and prior to entering another cave, even within a designated caving area, decontamination practices as outlined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must be strictly adhered to. ALL equipment must be cleaned! These procedures are posted at: http://www.fws.gov/northeast/whitenosemessage.html#containment.

Before caving:

A cave should only be entered with clothing, boots, and equipment that have been fully cleaned using the protocol below. We ask that you not take gear into a cave if that gear cannot be thoroughly decontaminated or disposed of (i.e. if harnesses, ropes or webbing, etc. cannot be decontaminated, we advise that you not enter caves or parts of caves requiring use of this gear).

After EVERY caving trip please abide by the following steps:

Step #1: Upon exiting a cave…

• Thoroughly scrape or brush off any dirt and mud from your clothes, boots, and gear and then place them in a sealed plastic bag or plastic container with lid to be cleaned and disinfected off site. 
 • Outer clothing should be removed prior to entering a vehicle after/between a site visit.  A clean change of clothing is recommended.  Surface cleaning of exposed skin (arms, face, neck, hands, etc.) with antibacterial hand sanitizer (i.e. Purell®) should occur prior to entering the vehicle’s cab.

Step #2: Disinfecting gear…

• For clothing—Wash all clothing and any appropriate equipment in washing machine using the hottest cycle possible for material and conventional detergents. Laboratory testing has found Woolite® fabric wash to be the best surfactant for clothing.  Rinse thoroughly, and then follow by soaking with sodium hypochlorite bleach (i.e. household bleach) solution diluted to 1 part bleach to 9 parts water in a tub or plastic container.  Soak for 10 minutes, then rinse and air dry.
 • For submersible gear (i.e. soft-sided gear.)—Disinfect any equipment that can be submersed in a solution with an appropriate and compatible disinfectant such as sodium hypochlorite bleach (i.e. household bleach) solution diluted to 1 part bleach to 9 parts water in a tub or plastic container or ≥ 0.3% concentration of quaternary ammonium compounds (i.e. Lysol® All-purpose Professional Cleaner or the antibacterial form of Formula 409®).  Keep submersed for 10 minutes, then rinse and air dry.
• For non-submersible gear (i.e. hard-sided gear) – Disinfect any equipment that cannot be submersed by applying an appropriate and compatible disinfectant to the outside surface by using ≥ 0.3% concentration of quaternary ammonium compounds such as Lysol® All-purpose Professional Cleaner, Lysol® disinfecting wipes or the antibacterial form of Formula 409®; or use sodium hypochlorite bleach (i.e. household bleach) solution diluted to 1 part bleach to 9 parts water.  Keep on surface for 10 minutes, then rinse and air dry.
• For boots—Boots need to be fully scrubbed and rinsed so that all soil and organic material is removed.  The entire rubber and leather boots, including soles and leather uppers, can then be disinfected with an appropriate disinfectant such as ≥ 0.3% concentration of quaternary ammonium compounds (i.e. Lysol® All-purpose Professional Cleaner or the antibacterial form
of Formula 409®) or sodium hypochlorite bleach (i.e. household bleach) solution diluted to 1 part bleach to 9 parts water.  Keep on surface for 10 minutes, then rinse and air dry.
 • For ropes and harnesses—This equipment should be dedicated to one cave or not used at all.  Decontamination of vertical equipment is recommended.  However, the performance integrity may be compromised by using these disinfecting agents mentioned above repeatedly.  Laboratory testing is ongoing. 
Note: This protocol is updated as of 6-9-09.  Please visit http://www.fws.gov/northeast/white_nose.html for a more comprehensive containment and decontamination protocol.

UPDATES

This policy will be subject to revision through the year as new information and guidelines regarding WNS are published and made available. Please check the MAKC website regularly for updates.