Natural Resource Condition Assessments for Russell Cave National Monument

The Natural Resource Condition Assessment (NRCA) Program provides framework, funding, and publishing support to parks to aid in the synthesis and documentation of natural resource conditions. Condition assessment reports are a tool to describe selected park resources, and record a snapshot of their current condition, identify trends, and identify potential or current threats and stressors. Understanding the condition and trend of natural resources is key for parks and NPS planners to appropriately prioritize and allocate stewardship resources.

Looking out from a cave entrance at a forest of green trees.
Inside the cave shelter.

NPS Photo

Russell Cave National Monument contains one of the longest stories of continuous habitation in North America. The Monument site consists of twenty-three different archaeological sites and seventeen subsites in northeastern Alabama, marking various features and/or locations of prehistoric importance. The cave and its ecosystem are a crucial part of the monument, and approximately 10 km of caverns exist within Russell Cave alone. The cave has open portions near the mouth of the cave, as well as dark zones of the cave that support a variety of species. Several species that live in the cave system are vulnerable or near-threatened, including the Tennessee cave salamander (Gyrinophilus palleucus) and the Southern cavefish (Typhlichthys subterraneus).

Traditional NRCA Report: 2019

The Natural Resource Condition Assessment for Russell Cave National Monument was the result of a collaboration between Middle Tennessee State University, the NPS Cumberland Piedmont Inventory and Monitoring Network, and Russell Cave National Monument staff. The report was published in 2019 after the assessment team chose resource topics of most importance in the Monument:

- Atmosphere/air quality

- Water quality

- Biological integrity

- Landscapes and human use

Of the indicators analyzed, five were assigned no condition, eight were assigned good condition, eight warranted moderate concern, and four warranted significant concern. Those components that received no condition rating, such as weather and geology, either lacked data for assessment, or the assessment was not applicable. The overall condition ratings for atmosphere, water quality, and biological integrity were determined to be in moderate concern, while the overall condition of landscapes and human use was determined to be in good condition.

Some of the most important natural resources at Russell Cave National Monument involve the geology of the cave system, as well as the animal life within the cave, including cave bats. These components face serious threats in the form of natural processes eroding and affecting the cave’s structural integrity, and the spread of white-nose syndrome in the bat populations. One aspect that could be better leveraged to monitor and manage environmental factors at the Monument is the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) resources. Better data handling practices, including proper metadata implementation and an expanded push to digitize spatial information, would provide a positive impact to the overall management of the Monument.

For other reports and natural resource datasets visit the NPS Data Store.

Source: Data Store Collection 7765 (results presented are a subset). To search for additional information, visit the Data Store.

Last updated: August 16, 2022


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