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Caving on Private Land Opportunities and Responsibilities for Landowners

Michael A. Schuett and Amanda Bentley*

ave tourism offers Texans many oppor- enormous value to our ecosystem: They filter tunities for and education. A our drinking water; provide habitat for special- Clandowner who opens a to visitors ized species; offer educational opportunities; enables them to enjoy unique natural areas. provide space for recreation, exploration, and However, cave resources are irreplaceable and scientific study; and could hold secrets of must be protected with consistent monitoring medicinal advances for humans. and care. Landowners and land managers who con- and the landscapes where template opening their properties to cave tour- they occur are fragile resources that provide ism need to consider many factors, including the special characteristics of caves, the resources available to help them, the opportu- nities for working with recreationists and sci- entists to improve our knowledge and under- standing of caves, and the importance of col- laborating with organizations to protect cave ecosystems. Cave characteristics A cave is typically defined as a natural open- ing in the ground large enough for humans to enter, where the length or depth of the cavity is greater than the size of the entrance. Caves are formed in karst topography, which is a landscape where layers of bedrock such as limestone or Caves such as this one in Longhorn Cavern State Park in Burnet, , have been developed *Associate Professor and Extension Specialist, and as show caves to accommodate many visitors. Graduate Student in Recreation, Park & Tourism Source: Amanda Bentley Sciences, The Texas A&M University System dolomite have been dissolved by acidic waters over Each year, millions of visitors stroll through the thousands of years. cavernous rooms of Carlsbad, Mammoth, Wind and A cave’s lack of natural light makes it a distinct Jewel Cave National Parks. In addition to federally ecosystem. Although light from the sun powers life managed areas, state, local, and private entities main- above ground, life below ground depends on energy tain caves. Texas has several show caves, including from other sources. These unusual conditions force the , , and cave inhabitants such as crickets and spiders to Inner Space Cavern. become highly specialized. Many species are found Other caves are kept wild and are less accessible. in only a single cave system. Wild caves have no paved paths to guide visitors, and Caves are preva- the cave formations are not protected by guardrails. lent throughout the Access to caves must be regulated because and underground ecosystems are extremely fragile. One abundant in Texas, touch by a human hand transfers oils that damage where 98 percent of the formation forever. In fact, humans significantly The Texas blind salamander is an the land is privately affect caves just by walking through them. Skin cells endangered species that lives in owned. If sliced in and lint from easily shed onto cave forma- caves. Source: Kenneth Dodd, Jr./U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service half through the bed- tions and pile up over time; bacteria and mud are rock, some landown- brought in on shoes; and carbon dioxide and ammo- ers’ properties would look like Swiss cheese. Others nia gases are released through breathing. own caves that house endangered biodiversity such A cave’s unique microclimate can be changed by as Texas Wild-rice, the Robber Baron Cave spider, body heat, lights, the installation of concrete, steel and the Texas blind salamander. walkways, and supplemented ventilation. These changes can cause permanent and irreversible dam- Cave tourism age to the ecosystem, including the organisms living The unique characteristics of caves also attract there. species of the Homo sapiens variety. Some caves have been commercially developed for the enjoyment of Cavers visitors who want to admire formations such as sta- People who enjoy lagmites and from the safety of stable crawling through paths with handrails. Visitors access these caves by rocks, mud, and paying for guided tours, which often are -lit and guano deep inside follow a paved path. Known as show caves, these wild caves are known caves are developed to allow many people to move as cavers. Cavers are through them safely. members of a com- munity of recreation- ists and scientists who systematically explore caves. In this Cavers survey and document caves. two-fold process, cav- Source: Amanda Bentley ers: ▶ Discover and explore caves and cave systems ▶ Document information about the caves, including written observations, photographs, measurements, cave entrance locations, and formation inventories. Cavers enjoy access to caves on public and private land through their membership in a caving club, or . Relationships between , land managers, and land owners often span decades, and a good rela- tionship based on trust is fundamental for both cave Carlsbad Caverns is a federally managed . Source: Amanda Bentley access and .

2 Cavers tend to be Table 1. Respondents who reported engaging in good environmental caving activities in Texas at least once a year. stewards: It is in their Year Percentage of Number of best interest to protect participants participants the resource where they 1995 4.9 677,000 explore and collect data. They also tend to 2001 5.9 918,000 self-regulate visitation. 2009 4.0 730,100 This means that when a Source: National Survey on Recreation and the Environment (NSRE) grotto obtains access to a cave, the trip leader reports and regulates Survey on Recreation and the Environment (NSRE). Visitors explore the Caverns the number of cavers Conducted annually since 1982, the NSRE describes of Sonora in Sonora, Texas. entering the cave that participation by Americans in Source: Amanda Bentley day and their activities. activities. Visitation data is vital In 1995, 2001, and 2009, respondents were asked information for properly managing the use of caves, if they participated in caving. The survey results pro- and it is a useful tool that can indicate the need for vide preliminary information about respondents who management changes. reported caving at least once in the past year (Table 1). However, it is unclear from this survey whether Resources for information and assistance respondents visited show caves or wild caves on pub- Several cave management resources are available lic or private land. to help Texas land managers and landowners who are Public agencies, private organizations, and survey curious or concerned about cave ecosystems on their data can help with all aspects of cave management. property. These organizations work with landowners, Many nonprofit and land trust organizations are schools, rescue groups, and underground resource committed to the preservation, conservation, and sci- agencies to preserve and manage caves. Several of entific study of caves. these organizations not only manage caves through For more information on federally managed conservation easements, but they own caves as well, caves, contact: so membership numbers and cave trips are thor- ▶ National Park Service oughly recorded. www.nps.gov One source of data that can help landowners ▶ National Cave and Karst Research Institute make land management decisions is the National www.nature.nps.gov/nckri/ ▶ Texas Parks and Wildlife Department http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/ For information on privately managed caves, conservation easements, and grottos in Texas, con- tact: ▶ Texas Cave Conservancy www.texascaves.org ▶ Texas Cave Management Association www.tcmacaves.org ▶ Texas Speleological Association www.cavetexas.org ▶ Texas Speleological Survey www.utexas.edu/tmm/sponsored_sites/tss/ Information on , white nose syndrome, and other cave biodiversity is available from: Data collected by cavers can help document changes and ▶ U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prevent threats to these fragile ecosystems. Source: Travis www.fws.gov Scott

3 ▶ Bat Conservation International cally. On May 20, 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife www.batcon.org Service and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife ▶ Edwards Conservation confirmed that the fungus has been www.edwardsaquifer.net/ identified in bats as far southwest as Oklahoma. For questions and issues to consider when evalu- As white-nose syndrome spreads southward, no one ating a potential nature tourism/recreation enterprise knows where the newly identified fungus will stop or on your property, see: how it will affect bats or caves in Texas. ▶ Nature Tourism Program, Texas AgriLife Cave owners can work with scientists and caving Extension Service organizations to document changes in cave dwellers http://www.rpts.tamu.edu/tce/NT/ and find ways to halt and prevent such threats to ▶ Texas AgriLife Extension Service publication these underground ecosystems. E-247, Nature Tourism: A Guidebook for Evaluating Enterprise Opportunities, which is available for download at https://agrilifebookstore.org/

Cooperating with other cave interests Collaboration between cave ecosystems stake- holders has become imperative as new threats to cave biodiversity emerge. For example, a wildlife health crisis called white-nose syndrome is plaguing bats in the northeastern United States. Bat colonies, which use caves as habitat for roosting and hibernating, eat thousands of tons of insects every night throughout and summer. Bats also play important roles as Unusual formations such as these in the Caverns of Sonora pollinators and seed dispersers, and they serve as in Sonora, Texas, interest many cavers, scientists, and prey for snakes, hawks, and barn owls. members of the general public. Source: Amanda Bentley Northeastern bats usually hibernate through win- ter, but scientists believe a white fungus growing on Summary the noses, ears, and wings of bats could be causing Cave tourism offers opportunities for recreation, them to rouse more often from hibernation, perhaps to education, and scientific study, but cave resources groom the fungus away. Waking up from hibernation must be protected. As we continue to explore our can burn a lot of calories for a small bat. When bats vast, underground world, landowners and land man- get hungry, they fly out of their caves to find insects; agers need to know the resources that are available to however, no insects are available for them in winter. them and to take steps to preserve fragile cave eco- Ultimately, more than 1 million bats have died systems. Public agencies, private organizations, and since 2006 due to white-nose syndrome and subse- survey data can provide assistance to all aspects of quent starvation. If bat populations continue to cave management. decline, insect populations could increase dramati- Acknowledgment The Center for Socioeconomic Research & Education at Texas A&M University provided techni- cal assistance for this publication. Sources Elliot, W.R. (2010). Overview of Texas Caves and Karst. Retrieved from http://www.utexas.edu/ White-nose syndrome has killed more than 1 million bats tmm/sponsored_sites/tss/cavesandkarst/index. in the United States since 2006. Source: Nancy Heaslip/ Department of Environmental Conservation html

4 Bayless, M. (2010). “White-nose Syndrome Jumps to Russell, M.J. and MacLean, V.L. (2008). “Management a ‘Gateway to the West.” Bat Conservation issues in a Tasmanian tourist cave: potential International. Retrieved from http://www.fws. microclimatic impacts of cave modifications.” gov/whitenosesyndrome/ Journal of Environmental Management, 87, 474– Jasper, J. (2005). “Studying cave visitation trends at 483. Timpanogos Cave National Monument and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. (2009). White Nose Nutty Putty Cave.” 2005 Cave and Karst Syndrome in Bats: Frequently Asked Questions. Symposium, 72–77. Retrieved from http://www. Retrieved from www.fws.gov nckms.org/proceed.html. Whitten, T. (2009). “Applying ecology for cave man- Kambesis, P. (2007). “The importance of cave explo- agement in and neighboring countries.” ration to scientific research.” Journal of Cave and Journal of Applied Ecology, 46, 520–523. Karst Studies, (69)1, 46–58. Zimmerman, R. (2009). “Biologists struggle to solve National Park Service. (2009). White Nose Syndrome bat deaths.” Science, 324, 1134–1135. of Bats. Retrieved from www.nps.gov

Formation in Mushroom Cave, Formations in Sutton County Texas. Cave, Texas.

Two cavers rappel into Devil’s at Rocksprings, Texas. Source of photos: Travis Scott

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