Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Breaking sweat to protect W.Va.'s bats in Trout Cave

Today you're hearing from Devin Gill, an AmeriCorps volunteer with our West Virginia Field Office.

Trout Cave is one of Pendleton County’s best kept secrets.

Its large mouth beckons cavers away from a breathtaking overlook of the North Fork River as the river navigates its way through the mountains of Pendleton County. To the average passerby on U.S. Route 33, the steep trail leading to Trout Cave’s entrance is lost amidst the roadside greenery. But to cavers in the know, Trout Cave is a 200-foot, gut-busting climb up from the highway.

Early one hot July morning, employees from our West Virginia Field Office and the West Virginia DNR set out for Trout Cave with one goal in mind: to protect native bats.

Historically, Trout Cave was home to large populations of a variety of bat species. But the sizes and diversity of bat populations within the cave have declined in recent years, presumably due to increased recreational activity in the cave since the 1960’s. The once large population of little brown bats has dwindled down to only a handful. 

According to historical data, it appears that Trout Cave was once the second largest hibernacula in West Virginia for the now endangered Indiana bat. It was because of this alarming decline in bat populations that the Service and state partnered with other community organizations to install a cave gate in 2008. 

The gate allows bats in while keeping human disturbances out. It was first constructed with the intent that the cave would only be closed in the winter months to protect hibernating Indiana bats. But since 2008, the endangered Virginia big-eared bat began roosting in Trout Cave, requiring increased protection. In addition, in recent years, white-nose syndrome has spread to West Virginia caves, and Trout Cave is no exception. 

These two factors led to the year round closing of Trout Cave. These conservation efforts are paying off, as both the endangered Indiana bat and Virginia big-eared bat populations are increasing. 

It was with this success in mind that the Service and state sent a few employees scrambling up steep rocks to maintain the integrity of the cave gate this year. Local conservationists are determined to protect these historical inhabitants of Trout Cave.

Only a true passion for wildlife conservation would send six people rappelling over rock 200 feet up from the ground with bags of cement mix and steel bars strapped to their backs.

At the end of the day, the group was exhausted, but all smiles for a job well done by a successful inter-agency partnership. Just another great day at the Service's West Virginia Field Office! 


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