Notes from NPS Management Meeting at NSS Convention

At the 2017 National Speleological Society’s annual convention in Rio Ranch, New Mexico, eleven NPS personnel attended a dinner meeting to share projects and park happenings since the last convention. Andy Armstrong, cave specialist at Timpanogos Cave National Monument, compiled and distributed a list of bullet points that were submitted by eleven National Parks. Some of the bullet points are described in more detail on the preceding pages.

Buffalo National River – submitted by Chuck Bitting
  • The large swine CAFO in the subwatershed of a major tributary, and scarcely 3 miles from our boundary continues to be a major issue. Recently BUFF sent a letter to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality regarding a draft decision they had made to increase the amount of waste spreading fields and change the waste storage and disposal for this CAFO. This letter was reviewed by DOI Solicitor before going out.
  • David Mott, former park hydrologist, and retired Director of the USGS Wyoming Water Science Center developed a report on the CAFO taking into account all available scientific data. While unable to put a finger directly on the CAFO operation at this time, all the data points to the CAFO as a major source of nutrient and bacterial pollution to the Buffalo River.
  • University of Arkansas Professor Emeritus John Van Brahana and his colleagues have completed several studies of the water quality and groundwater flow associated with the CAFO. This has resulted in several publications in peer-reviewed journals, and presentations to professional groups.
  • Litigation is ongoing between private groups and ADEQ regarding the CAFO issue.
  • The White River of Arkansas and Missouri now has a Waterkeeper as part of the Waterkeeper Alliance. Her name is Jesse Green. She is an aquatic ecologist, bat biologist, and a caver.
  • Cave Research Foundation has been conducting biological surveys of many of our nearly 500 caves. From this data, it appears the Tri-colored bat aka. Eastern Pipistrelle (Perimyotis subflavus) is being wiped out by WNS. We see much smaller populations than in the past, and find many carcasses of this species.
  • Additional surveys by Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, USFWS, and contract bat biologists indicate that the Gray bat (Myotis grisescens) appears to be doing well. The Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis) and Northern Long-Eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis) aredeclining more slowly than the pips.
  • Studies of cave sediments in Fitton Cave continue to help us understand the landscape evolution of the Buffalo River basin. These have been combined with studies of river terrace sediments. Methods used to date sediments include Optically Stimulated Luminescence, Cosmogenic dating, Uranium series dating, and paleo-magnetisim studies. The work is a partnership of the USGS, Purdue University, University of Nevada-Reno, Auburn University, University of Arkansas, Oregon State University, Cave Research Foundation, and Buffalo National River staff and volunteers. Cave sediments which were deposited more than 2,000,000 years ago have been discovered in Fitton Cave, meaning the speleogenesis of this cave predates sediment deposition. The study results, to date, have been presented in several professional meetings and will soon appear in peer-reviewed journals.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park – submitted by Ellen Trautner
  • A new Cave Resources staff was hired at Carlsbad Caverns National Park: Rod Horrocks, Erin Lynch, & Ellen Trautner.
  • A project was started to camouflage the cables in the new LED lighting system using local, native materials.
  • We contracted with NCKRI and New Mexico Tech to study the ideal color temperatures and intensities of our new LED lights, in order to discourage algae growth.
  • Nearly 30 pounds of lint were removed from half of the Main Corridor in Carlsbad Cavern during the preceding 12 months.
  • With WNS so close to the park, we made significant updates to our WNS policies and procedures, which we are currently implementing.
  • We are starting a two-year process to update the Cave and Karst Resource Management Plan.
  • National Geographic and the BBC filmed in Carlsbad Cavern and Lechuguilla Cave.
  • A four-foot section of a stalactite in the Kings Palace Chamber was broken by a lighting crew during a special use filming permit. Jim and Val Werker will be repairing the stalactite this fall.
  • The CRF recently completed the resurvey of Slaughter Canyon Cave (3.78 miles) and the Big Room in Carlsbad Cavern. Both maps are now on sale in the park’s bookstore. A map of the Main Corridor is currently in production.
  • A CAVE SAR team has been established and is practicing quarterly. We worked with the Carlsbad Fire Department and County Search and Rescue to develop procedures to conduct a rope rescue in the 750-foot deep elevator shaft should that be necessary.
  • Cave surveys are continuing in Carlsbad Cavern, Lechuguilla Cave, Spider Cave, and in various backcountry caves.
  • We have revised and updated the cave survey paper used in cave surveying in the park and have developed a daily trip report form on Rite-in- the-Rain paper that fits in the yellow survey notebooks.

El Malpais National Monument – submitted by Eric Weaver
  • We are working with Bogdan Onac from University of South Florida to collect ice cores from several caves for stable isotope analysis. We are also collecting guano cores at a Mexican free-tail maternity colony for similar analysis and pollen. Hopefully these can be calibrated with our dendro record which is the longest in the Southwest.
  • We hope to purchase a FLIR T630 in the near future. Additionally, we will be purchasing software designed to count bats. This will help with monitoring our maternity colony. Within the past 10 years the count was 5,000 but recent counts have been up to 120,000. We do not know if this change is an actual change or due to improvements in counting methodology. Hopefully this new method will assure consistent measurements through the years.
  • Winter bat counts were conducted this year but were hindered by bad weather and lack of staffing. We still managed to do the main 100 caves in the Monument. Results indicate minimal changes from last year. We are beginning acoustical monitoring for the summer to identify summer roosting locations.
  • Several bryophyte experts have been inventorying our moss gardens. They have been surprised that each cave contains a different diversity of bryophytes. Many of these have been found to be new to New Mexico and are more common to northern or alpine climates. A recent fern was found that is likely to be rare and may be a new species but final determination is pending.
  • Diana Northup and Jenny Hathaway have conducted more swabbing of bats for studying the natural defenses of bats. They have identified several caves at ELMA that should have increased monitoring for Pd since they have ideal conditions and a close relative of Pd was found several years ago.
Grand Canyon National Park - submitted by Ben Tobin
  • Dye trace update: injected 2 more dyes this winter, will likely have results by convention (samples are currently being analyzed by Geary Schindel).
  • Invertebrate survey: conducting surveys in 3 stream caves with Jean Krejca and Zara Environmental (survey work concludes on 6/20).
  • Bat hibernaculum study: installed 4 roost loggers this winter in conjunction with 11 accoustic monitors set up throughout the canyon to monitor seasonality of bat behavior in the canyon.
  • Survey and inventory: Jason Ballensky and Ray Keeler both have ongoing permits to map and inventory in park caves. Their work, combined with NPS staff work has resulted in ~5 miles of new survey and inventory of park caves since last convention.
Great Basin National Park – submitted by Gretchen Baker
  • Lehman Caves Management Plan is waiting for Management Team review and then will be available for public comment.
  • Wild Caves and Karst Management Plan is undergoing staff review.
  • Bat surveys are ongoing, including internal, mistnetting, and acoustical techniques; a PIT tag reader has been installed at the natural entrance of Lehman.
  • A crew of 3 bat staff are studying bats this summer.
  • Quarterly biomonitoring of Lehman Caves continues, and an analysis of 10 years of data is under review.
  • A cave climate change study is underway, with temperature and humidity dataloggers deployed in more than 20 caves.

Jewel Cave National Monument – submitted by Dan Austin
  • Exploration has produced several miles of new passage since the last convention, and 6 new lakes.
  • A new cave campsite was established in December to facilitate exploration in the Splinter Section.
  • The park is currently working on filming in on and off-trail cave locations with a contractor for a park film.
  • Still working on details with a contractor for Scenic Tour structure reconstruction project, probably will begin winter of FY18.
  • University of Wyoming bat study set to kick off this summer, with mist netting and pit tagging at the historic entrance.
  • Several new interns working for resource management this summer, including SCAs, SCA NPS Academy, and Geoscientist in Park.
  • Continuing bat acoustic monitoring throughout summer months.

Lava Beds National Monument – submitted by Dave Riggs
  • WNS surveillance efforts throughout the Monument continue to show no evidence of P.d. fungus. All visitors continue to be screened upon entry to the Monument, and a new “bio-cleaning station” - based upon a Mammoth Cave NP design - was just placed into operation for use by visitors arriving from non-WNS areas.
  • After a five-year effort, our cave resource I&M protocol has been finalized: Integrated Monitoring Protocol for Cave Entrance Communities and Cave Environments.
  • The 18th UIS International Symposium on Vulcanospeleology will be hosted at Lava Beds in July 2018
  • Two independent research groups with teams representing NASA and the Canadian Space Agency have been performing geophysical and microbial research this spring, utilizing Lava Beds as an analog for lava tubes on the Moon and Mars.
Mammoth Cave National Park – submitted by Rick Toomey
  • MACA is working with the DSC to get our initial draft Cave Management Plan into a final document this coming year. We are having an internal scoping workshop in early August.
  • Our 2-year renovation of the Historic Tour trail to make it more safe, sustainable, resource protecting, and maintainable, was completed in April 2017 (1 month ahead of schedule). The Historic Trail surface is now paver or concrete throughout.
  • We are currently replacing all fixtures and bulbs on our lighting system with LED bulbs. The total is about 1200 fixtures. We are using a mix of warm white (in areas without algae issues) and amber bulbs (sea turtle safe lighting) in areas with algae issues.
  • WNS has led to significant decreases in several bat species in park. Of species with decent winter counts, Little brown bats have decreased by 91%, Indiana bats by 81%, and tricolored bats by 76%. Summer capture and acoustic data also indicates that northern long-eared bats are greatly reduced. We continue to do post-tour WNS intervention (walkover mats for walking tours, park supplied gear for crawling tours).
  • Lock and Dam 6 (a navigation lock on the Green River just below the park) breached at Thanksgiving 2016 (and was subsequently removed this past spring). The dam had formerly pooled the Green River for about 12 miles up into the park, including inundating several cave streams. The navigation structure was used from 1906 into the 1930s. The park had been pushing for the removal of the structure since the 1950s, so overall I can say the park is very pleased with this development.
  • Kurt Helf (CUPN) has been finalizing his Cave Aquatic Biology Monitoring protocol. It will be used at MACA, CUGA, and RUCA. He is busy writing SOPs, etc. He has led us in some testing and the results have been promising.
  • Rick Toomey was chosen as MACA’s first Cave Resource Management Specialist. He started at that position in December 2016

Ozark National Scenic Riverways – submitted by Scott House
  • WNS monitoring is highest priority. Monitoring has shown a drastic drop in certain species (M. septentrionalis, P. sublfavus, M. lucifugus). M. grisescens and M. sodalis are stable at this time.
  • Use monitoring continues as well. Nearly 90 caves monitored FY17 to date. Most monitoring done by members of Cave Research Foundation.
  • Cartographic survey continues in several long, wet caves.
  • Park efforts are reeling in wake of catastrophic April/May flood. Over 150 structures greatly affected or destroyed including our research center. For now, further field work is on hold awaiting a replacement facility of some sort.
  • Tour cave, Round Spring Cavern, is back in business after floods destroyed cave light shed (75 hand-held lights gone).
  • Field efforts, when begun, will be focused on gray bat maternity colonies (four) which were all flooded to some extent, mostly completely. 50,000+ endangered bats may have been affected.
  • OZAR has over 420 caves within authorized boundaries, 375 or so are on fee simple.

Timpanogos Cave National Monument – submitted by Andy Armstrong
  • Brendon Quirk, a PhD student from the University of Utah, is conducting paleoclimate research on three core samples that we allowed him to take from stalagmites and flowstone. He is looking for the isotopic signature of water evaporated off of fresh water to prove that Pleistocene snow levels in this area were enhanced by a lake effect from Lake Bonneville.
  • We are continuing to see positive effects in the caves from the installation of the new cold-storage-type doors in the tunnels between the caves in 2015. Cave pool levels are rising, and speleothems drip year-round in places where they used to dry up during the summer.
  • We are working with GRD geomorphologist Eric Bilderback and have a GIP intern conducting a rockfall hazard analysis within the park using a tool called the Unstable Slope Management Plan. This is the first time that the USMP has been used for a trail instead of a road and we are helping to pilot that effort.

Wind Cave National Park – submitted by Marc Ohms
  • Due to wax being dripped all over the cave, we are no longer using candles on our Candlelight Tour (I guess that we need to rename it). We found a flameless candle (LED) to use in its place.
  • We have an ACE crew coming this fall for 4 weeks to do restoration work in the cave. The focus will be vacuuming the tour routes (lint and hair) and cleaning wax along the Candlelight tour.
  • Dr. Hazel Barton is continuing her work on the microbial life in the cave lakes and Dr. Andreas Pflitsch is continuing his airlfow/climate studies within the cave. He will be having three Interns at the park this winter.
  • Marc published a report on the water resources within the park via the NPS Technical report series. It can be found here:
  • Digging continues in Persistence Cave. We are about 300 feet in and more digging ahead. Bones continue to be found everywhere! We have over 50 species so far and date back to 38,000 years. Camels, horses, bear, bison, pika....
  • We had a week-long cave rescue class at the park last fall with 14 students from 4 parks and the USFS.
  • Ongoing exploration has brought the surveyed length of the cave up to 147.14 miles.

Last updated: October 2, 2017