A Summary of Legislation and Organizations

Involved in the Preservation of Caves and Bats

Conservation Section Home

The establishment of Yellowstone National Park was one of the true miracles in American History. We quietly set aside an area the size of one of our original states to be preserved in perpetuity, an act which led to the establishment of the National Park System and has been emulated by over a one hundred nations.

President Grant signed the Yellowstone National Park Act on March 1, 1872. The key words in this act of only six hundred words are: Yellowstone Park is hereby reserved and withdrawn from settlement, occupancy or sale under the laws of the United States, and dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people(and) such regulations shall provide for the preservation from injury or spoliation of all timber, mineral deposits, natural curiosities, or wonders within said park, and retention in their natural condition. (Source S. 392, H.R. 464, 42nd Cong., 2nd Session, Stat 17,32.)


The National Park Services Act was enacted in 1916 (Public Law 64  235) and established the National Park Service followed by the creation of the Fish & Wildlife Service. Together these two organizations administer over 149 public laws with their associated rules, regulations and guidelines, and are under the domain of the Secretaries of Interior and Commerce. (http://www.fws.gov/laws/digest/reslaws/laws.html)


Today, there are 374 areas within the National Park System alone, covering more than 80 million acres in every state except Delaware, and including American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. (http://www.nps.gov/parklists/byname.htm) The Park Service exists to conserve these lands  and the wildlife that lives within - preserving them for future generations, while still providing for human enjoyment of these special places. The diverse habitats of our parklands, at least 55 of which have significant cave and karst features, abound with wildlife including bat populations   making their homes in caves, historic abandoned mines, rock crevices, trees, and even in old park buildings. 


Federal guidelines form the basis for management of these natural and historical resources, but each park also creates its own plan to address the management of its unique features and wildlife. Most park visitors view these lands as places where all resources are treasured and protected, but this has, unfortunately, not always been the case, especially for bats and their habitats.


The importance of caves to surrounding ecosystems   to say nothing of the importance of bats - was little understood by early park naturalists. In the past, many park managers perceived caves more as potential hazards to visitors than as valuable resources. The exception was if a cave had enough notable features to warrant being developed for tourism. When fences around non-commercial caves and mine openings didn't work as a safety measure to keep visitors out, parks often resorted to blocking the entrance by other means resulting in some major bat populations having been lost on national parklands.


Half of the National Parks were once National Monuments established by presidential proclamation rather than by an Act of Congress. The intent of the national monument enabling act, The National Antiquities Act (Public Law 59 - 509), was to allow the president to act quickly in saving archaeological sites on public lands before they could be plundered.  The Act as written, however, applied to any area of historic or scientific interest, including caves.




Speleologists should have a working knowledge of the National Park Services Act of 1916, Federal Cave Resources Protection Act of 1988, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended, the National Environmental Protection Act of 1969, the Lechuguilla Cave Protection Act of 1993 and the National Cave and Karst Research Institute Act of 1998 and the proposed Puerto Rico Land and Water Conservation Act of 2000. These Acts specifically protect caves on Federal Lands for perpetual use, enjoyment and benefit of all people.  (See Appendix 1 for details of these laws)


The NPS rules and regulations are found in U.S. Code Title 16, Chapter 1, National Parks, Military Parks, Monuments and Seashores.  This Chapter has 123 subchapters and a Table of Contents which is 59 pages long.  Subchapters of importance are Subchapter 15 - Wind Cave, Subchapter 47 - Mammoth Cave and Subchapter 50 - Carlsbad Caverns. A complete listing of this chapter is found at (http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/16/ch1.text.html).


The Federal Cave Resource Protection Act of 1988 (Public Law 100   691) is the responsibility of the Department of Interior.  The Act defines caves as "any naturally occurring void, cavity, recess, or system of interconnected passages which occurs beneath the surface of the earth or within a cliff or ledge [including any cave resource therein, but not including any vug (a small cavity in a rock), mine, tunnel, aqueduct, or other manmade excavation] which is large enough to permit an individual to enter, whether or not the entrance is naturally formed or man-made.  Such term shall include any natural pit, sinkhole, or other feature, which is an extension of the entrance."


The implementing rules are found in Part 37, Subtitle A, Title 43 and are listed in Appendix 1.  These rules establish criteria to be considered in the identification of significant caves. They also integrate cave management into existing planning and management processes and protect cave resource information to prevent disturbance of significant caves and vandalism. Primary impact lies with lands administered by the Bureaus of Indian Affairs, of Land Management, and Reclamation, as well as the National Park and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services.


Some key aspects of the significant cave determination process include provisions that:

  1. 1.    Each land management unit will have a single, designated officer to process nominations;
  2. 2.    Anyone can submit nominations;
  3. 3.    Evaluations will be carried out in consultation with knowledgeable representatives of the caving community;
  4. 4.    Caves can be selected based on any of several criteria, including recreational value;
  5. 5.    Denied cave nominations can be resubmitted if new information or more documentation is provided; and,
  6. 6.    Locations will be kept confidential.


Long before the enactment of The Endangered Species Act, 1973 (Public Law 93   205)(ESA), the Fish and Wildlife Service and it's predecessor, the Biological Survey, were taking specific actions to save, manage and restore America's imperiled natural resources, including caves.


Expanding upon the preceding Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966, the ESA sought to stop the extinction of many species of wild animals and plants in the United States, other nations and at sea. (Lera, 1978) The Endangered Species Act is the responsibility of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/U.S. Department of the Interior and the National Marine Fisheries Service/U.S. Department of Commerce and is one of the most comprehensive wildlife statutes ever enacted. The Secretaries of the Interior and Commerce administer the ESA. As a general rule, the majority of species listed are under the authority of the USFWS. The goal of the ESA is to bring about the recovery of listed species so they no longer need protection.


The ESA provides two levels of protection. Listed as endangered, and provided the most significant protection, are any species of plants or animals considered to be in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. Species likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future are listed as threatened, and protected by somewhat less restrictive regulations. With limited exceptions, the Act prohibits the using, taking, possessing, selling, or advertising for sale or trade of listed species in the U.S. and abroad, unless authorized by permit.


A species can be listed as threatened or endangered for one or more of the following reasons: current or threatened destruction, modification, or reduction of habitat or range; overuse for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; disease or predation; ineffective protection regulations; and other natural forces or human activities affecting chances for survival. Once a listing is confirmed, critical habitat must also be designated. Critical habitat is defined as the geographic area that is essential to, or requires special protection for, the conservation of a species.


If the Secretary of the Interior finds it is not possible to designate habitat at the time of listing, it must be determined within one year. The economic as well as other relevant impacts are taken into consideration when specifying critical habitat. The Act also requires the Secretary of the Interior to develop and implement recovery plans for listed species. Recovery teams formulate recovery criteria and site-specific management plans.


Table 1 lists the US Fish & Wildlife Service's Endangered and Threatened Species of Bats by State. (http://endangered.fws.gov/mammals1.html)


The National Environmental Policy Act, 1969 (Public Law 91  184) (NEPA) is a landmark legislation that requires all Federal Government agencies that interpret and administer United States policies, regulations, and public laws to follow nine rules. The rules require agencies to use a systematic, interdisciplinary approach to environmental decision-making; to develop procedures for assigning values to environmental concerns, which can be directly compared to economic and technical concerns; and to provide detailed reports regarding any proposed projects that may significantly affect the quality of the environment (commonly called Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)). The EIS for a proposed project must include the expected environmental impact, any unavoidable negative impact, possible alternatives to the project, and an analysis of short-term versus long-term benefits.


The remaining NEPA rules require Federal agencies to monitor and evaluate environmental impact statements prepared by state agencies to: help create programs designed to maximize international environmental cooperation; serve as an information resource on a variety of environmental topics; research alternatives to unresolved environmental conflicts; use appropriate ecological information in planning and development; and, assist the Council on Environmental Quality.


The Lechuguilla Cave Protection Act of 1993 (Public Law 103  169) states that Congress found that Lechuguilla Cave and adjacent public lands have internationally significant scientific, environmental and other values, and should be retained in public ownership and protected against adverse effects of mineral exploration and development, as well as other activities presenting threats to the areas. The cave has multiple layers of protection under the Wilderness Act of 1978 (Public Law 95  237) and the National Park Services Act of 1916, as well as the Federal Cave Resources Act and the Lechuguilla Cave Protection Act. (Huppert, 1995)


Another important act is the National Cave and Karst Research Institute Act of 1998 (Public. Law. 105-325) whose purpose is to:


            (1) further the science of speleology;

(2) centralize and standardize speleological information;

(3) foster interdisciplinary cooperation in cave and karst research programs;

            (4) promote public education;

(5) promote national and international cooperation in protecting the environment for the benefit of cave and karst landforms; and

(6) promote and develop environmentally sound and sustainable resource management practices.


The Federal Cave Resources Protection Act (FCRPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA) each has provisions for taking (permitting) and for land acquisition with specific guidelines to follow with penalties for violations. The FCRPA penalty is a fine up to $10,000 and/or up to one-year imprisonment with subsequent penalties being stricter. For violating the ESA the criminal penalty is up to $50,000 and/or up to one-year imprisonment, and civil penalty a fine up to $25,000 per violation.




There are 27 states with cave protection laws and Texas has a specific bat protection law in addition to a cave protection law. The definition of a cave varies widely by state and ranges from a "historic site", as defined in Vermont, to Kentucky's definition of any naturally occurring void, cavity, recess, or system of interconnecting passages beneath the surface of the earth containing a black zone including natural subterranean water and drainage systems, but not including any mine, tunnel, aqueduct, or other man-made excavation, which is large enough to permit a person to enter. Therefore a Kentucky "cave" includes or is synonymous with cavern and covers everything and more than contained in the Federal definition.


Penalties for vandalism, removing any materials found in caves, killing or removing plant and animal life, breaking or tampering with doors or gates are classified in every state as a misdemeanor ranging from Class A/Class 1 to a Class E/Class 5. The penalty is either criminal or civil and ranges from $50 to $2,000 and/or up to one-year imprisonment. A subsequent violation either increases the penalty or becomes a criminal felony.


Table 2 lists States with Cave Protection Laws and the Penalty for Violations. Appendix 2 summarizes the statutes in each state. The italic at the end of the text is from the State Criminal Code regarding the definition of misdemeanor. The laws have been tested and a recent example can be found in A Summary of the Langhorn Cave Vandalism Case found in the April 1999, issue of the NSS NEWS. The vandal received 40 hours of community service, served 4 weekends in jail and received a small fine.


Each state has some form of endangered species protection act that includes species found on their own state's list as well as on the federal list. It is beyond the scope of this paper to list all the different state laws and state threatened and endangered species. An excellent web site for an introduction to state wildlife laws is found at (http://ipl.unm.edu/cwl/statbook/intro.html).




There are many organizations dedicated to the preservation and management of bats and caves.


The National Speleological Society (NSS) is the world's largest organization dedicated to the exploration, conservation and study of caves. Founded in 1941 and located in Huntsville, AL, its members have discovered, explored and studied more than 40,000 caves in the United States, as well as conducted extensive research and exploration in caves throughout the world. The NSS includes more than 11,000 active members with interests ranging from recreation to research, and whose efforts have contributed extensively to understanding our nation's cave resources. (http://www.caves.org)


The National Speleological Society's Policy for Cave Conservation (from the NSS Board of Governors Manual) states that: caves have unique scientific, recreational, and scenic values; these values are endangered by both carelessness and intentional vandalism; these values, once gone, cannot be recovered; and the responsibility for protecting caves must be assumed by those who study and enjoy them.


Accordingly, the intention of the Society is to work for the preservation of caves with a realistic policy supported by effective programs for: the encouragement of self-discipline among cavers; education and research concerning the causes and prevention of cave damage; and special projects, including cooperation with other groups similarly dedicated to the conservation of natural areas. Specifically:


  •          all contents of a cave--formations, life, and loose deposits--are significant for its enjoyment and interpretation.
  •          caving parties should leave a cave as they find it: provide means for the removal of waste; limit marking to a few, small and removable signs as are needed for surveys; and, especially, exercise extreme care not to accidentally break or soil formations, disturb life forms or unnecessarily increase the number of disfiguring paths through an area.


Scientific collection should be professional, selective and minimal. The collecting of mineral or biological material for display purposes, including previously broken or dead specimens, is never justified as it encourages others to collect and destroys the integrity of the cave.


The NSS encourages projects such as: establishing cave preserves; placing entrance gates where appropriate; opposing the sale of speleothems; supporting effective protective measures; cleaning and restoring over-used caves; cooperating with private cave owners by providing knowledge about their cave and assisting them in protecting the cave and their property from damage during cave visits; and encouraging commercial cave owners to make use of the opportunity to aid the public in understanding caves and the importance of their conservation.


Where there is reason to believe that publication of cave locations will lead to vandalism before adequate protection can be established, the NSS will oppose such publication.


It is the duty of every NSS member to take personal responsibility for spreading a consciousness of the cave conservation issue to each potential user of caves. Without this, the beauty and value of our caves will not long remain with us.


There are Memorandums of Understanding between the NSS and the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, the Forest Service, the American Cave Conservation Association (http://www.cavern.org/acabout.html), Bat Conservation International (http://www.batcon.org), The Nature Conservancy (http://www.tnc.org), Project Underground, Inc. and Karst Waters Institute (http://www.karstwaters.org). These memorandums were entered in agreement between June 1984 and April 2000 and are continually revised. The MOUs will help carry out the responsibilities under the 1988 Federal Cave Resources Protection Act to preserve our nation's significant caves, and to improve cooperation between cavers, cave researchers, and the Federal Government.


An important provision of the Federal Cave Resources Protection Act mandates an inventory of all significant federally owned caves, many of which have not been fully explored and thus could be threatened with harm from surface activities. Participation by the NSS will lead to the successful completion of this nationwide inventory effort.


The NSS also has a Cave Vandalism Deterrence Award ranging from $ 250.00 to $ 1,000.00 for information leading to the conviction of any person vandalizing a cave. (See Appendix 3 for details of the Memorandums and Award Policy)


The American Cave Conservation Association (ACCA) is a nonprofit organization formed in 1977 for the purpose of protecting caves and karst lands. ACCA is committed to developing public education programs and professional services that promote land use planning and proper stewardship of underground natural resources. In 1986, ACCA moved its headquarters from Richmond, Virginia to Horse Cave, Kentucky with the goal of building a unique, national educational center to address cave, karst and groundwater problems. ACCA raised more than $1.4 million from grants and donations in order to open the Center in 1993. This Center included the American Cave Museum.


ACCA has designed more than 100 cave gates for protection of endangered species and archaeological sites. Training seminars have taught hundreds of land managers how to effectively take care of caves. For nearly two decades, ACCA has worked in partnership with agencies and organizations such as the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Nature Conservancy and the NSS to protect some of the most significant cave ecosystems in America. (http://www.cavern.org/acabout.htm)



Bat Conservation International's (BCI) mission is to protect bats and restore their habitats worldwide. BCI is committed to:

-educating people to understand and value bats;

-protecting critical bat habitats and encouraging others to join in conservation efforts;

-advancing scientific knowledge, through research, of bats, their conservation needs, and the ecosystems that rely on them;

-relying on non-confrontational approaches to facilitate win-win solutions that benefit both bats and people.

BCI's philosophy is that there must be a balance between the needs of wildlife and the needs of humans. Increasing populations, poverty, and agricultural practices must be considered in meeting the organization's goals. Safeguarding the future of bats and their habitats, BCI helps to ensure the preservation of our planets biodiversity, thus creating a healthier environment for both wildlife and people.


The major areas of influence in furthering this philosophy are in the following programs: The North American Bat Conservation Partnership with BLM, the Latin America Bat Conservation Initiative (PCMM), the North American Bats and Mines Project, the North American Bat House Research Project, the Bats and Buildings Project, and in Workshops, Education and Public Outreach Programs. The NSS is an active partner in all BCI activities and programs. (http://www.batcon.org)


The Nature Conservancy, headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, is a nonprofit organization incorporated in 1951 for scientific and educational purposes. Its mission is "to preserve plants, animals, and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on earth by protecting the lands and water they need to survive." To date, the Nature Conservancy has been responsible for the protection of more than 6.3 million acres in the United States and Canada, and has partner organizations to preserve land in Latin America and the Caribbean. The Nature Conservancy owns more than 1,300 preserves, making it the largest private system of nature sanctuaries in the world. (http://www.tnc.org)


A key objective of Nature Conservancy programs is to integrate economic growth with environmental protection. The Conservancy launched the Natural Heritage Program and Conservation Data Center Network (the Heritage Network), a system that has resulted in the world's most comprehensive inventory of rare species and ecosystems. The network consists of 82 data centers across the Western Hemisphere, operated by both public and private institutions. Each center employs experts to collect information on local plants and animals that are stored in a communal computer system, currently holding more than 400,000 records on various species. Of the more than 5,600 plants and animals identified as rare by the Heritage Network in the U.S., only about 8% have been listed under the Endangered Species Act.


The Karst Waters Institute (KWI)is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit institution whose mission is to improve the fundamental understanding of karst water systems through sound scientific research and the education of professionals and the public. The institute is governed by a Board of Directors and does not have or issue memberships. Institute activities include the initiation, coordination, and conduct of research, the sponsorship of conferences and workshops, and occasional publication of scientific works. KWI supports these activities by acting as a coordinating agency for funding and personnel, but does not supply direct funding or grants to individual researchers.


As one way of increasing public awareness of karst and cave protection, the Institute publishes a list of the Top 10 endangered karst environments in the world. The third annual list is now available.(http://www.karstwaters.org)










The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has organizations in nearly 40 countries. WWF is the largest private organization working worldwide to protect endangered wildlife and its habitat. Since its formation in 1961, WWF has supported 2,068 projects in 116 countries and has spent over $62 million on conservation efforts. The organization is committed to protecting natural areas and wild populations of plants and animals, including endangered species; supporting sustainable approaches to the use of renewable natural resources; promoting more efficient use of resources and energy; and working for the maximum reduction of pollution. (http://www.wwf.org)


The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN)/World Conservation Union is the only worldwide conservation organization. Established in 1948 and based in Gland, Switzerland, it links together government and non-governmental agencies, and independent states to encourage a worldwide approach to conservation. In 1993, its membership included 655 organizations, representing 103 countries. The IUCN/World Conservation Union endorses captive breeding in addition to habitat protection to maintain viable populations in the wild. Its mission is "to provide leadership and promote a common approach for the world conservation movement in order to safeguard the integrity and diversity of the natural world, and to ensure that human use of natural resources is appropriate, sustainable, and equitable."


Each year the IUCN, the world's largest independent conservation organization, updates its Red Data Book, which lists worldwide plant and animal species known to be endangered, vulnerable or rare. Out of approximately 986 species of bats in the world (Nowak, 1994), the 1996 Red Data Book places 499 bat species in these one of three categories  50.6 % of the total bat population.


How does the IUCN/World Conservation Union categorize animals The term threatened is used to describe animals protected by the IUCN/World Conservation Union, and divides them into categories, which are listed in the 1996 Red Book. Table 3 lists by categories bat families that are on the Red Book list and Table 4 breaks out this list for those bat families found in the United States. Table 5, Bat Species in the Continental United States, lists all of the bats found in the Continental United States and identifies 7 species listed as endangered by the Fish and Wildlife Service, and 11 species listed by the IUCN.


Conservation biologists recently have suggested that constructing these red lists has been a major tactical error. (Diamond, 1988) The mere existence of such lists can lead to the assumption that if a species is not listed, it is not in jeopardy. A great many species not on any threatened or endangered list should be, but we do not know enough about them. A major problem is that to be included, the extent and rate of decline must be documented. However, in many cases, past populations have not been studied, and this data is often not available. To correct this problem, it has been suggested rather than putting together red lists, we should construct "green lists." Green lists would index species known to be secure. Thus, the burden of proof would be shifted to those who maintain all is well with a species.


The text below gives summary definitions of the categories (number of bats in each category). (Appendix 4 details each category)


A. EXTINCT (EX)-(13)

            B. EXTINCT IN THE WILD (EW)-(0)




F. LOWER RISK (LR)-(212)

1. Conservation Dependent (cd)-(2)

2. Near Threatened (nt)-(210)

3. Least Concern (lc) (0)







As part of the Endangered Species Act, Congress directed the Department of the Interior to convene an international convention to conserve endangered species. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an international assembly convened in 1973 in Washington, D.C. and the resulting treaty became effective on July 1, 1975. The United States and 140 other nations are parties, which have ratified the agreement (only four nations have succeeded from the organization to the agreement) is required to meet and discuss wildlife trade issues at least once every two years. CITES recognizes that unrestricted commercial exploitation is a major threat to species' survival. It establishes worldwide controls over trade in certain species of endangered and threatened wildlife and plants. (http://www.wcmc.org.uk/CITES/index.shtml)


CITES categorizes plants and animals in one of three Appendices.


 a. Appendix I include species identified as currently endangered, or in danger of extinction throughout all, or a significant portion of, its range. Permits are issued for activities with these species only under exceptional circumstances. All activity requires a permit from the importing country and a permit from the exporting country.


 b. Appendix II includes species identified as threatened, or likely to become endangered if trade isn't regulated. International trade is permitted only with proper documentation issued by the government of the exporting country.


 c. Appendix III species are listed to give additional protection to those species not currently considered endangered or threatened. International shipments of Appendix III species require an export permit from the country, which listed the species, or a certificate of origin from the exporting country. No CITES import permit is necessary.


Table 6 lists the bats (by Family) that are listed in the CITES Appendixes. A "D" on the table means the species has been deleted from the list. There are currently 67 bats on the list and 10 bats have been deleted.




Can We Save Them All


Let's start with the proposition that we want to save as many endangered bats and caves as possible. The question is, how We first need to clearly understand the basic problem--that is, why are they endangered Next we must look at how well efforts to save endangered species have worked to date. If they haven't worked, we need to understand why not. Finally, we must look at other fields to see what tools we can apply that may be more successful.


There are several ways of looking at a species decline. The standard ecological view blames disappearing species on habitat loss. But the question still remains, why is there habitat loss


Habitat Degradation


With our ignorance as a perspective, consider some of what we do know about the status of bats particularly, North American bats. Among the 45 species, cave roosting sites are essential for 24 of them, and occasionally some of the remaining 21. Nineteen of the 24 utilize caves year-round, both for reproduction and as winter roosts. The other five rely on caves only for hibernation, and roost elsewhere during the reproductive season. (Barbour, 1969)


Bats have rates of population growth far lower than those of other small mammals. Many females do not begin reproducing until their second year, and most species give birth to only a single pup annually. Bats typically have long life spans (10 to more than 30 years). Consequently, their populations are built up over a long span of time, thus reducing the rate and probability of recovery from severe losses.


Bats have other characteristics that contribute to their vulnerability. One of the most significant is they roost in large aggregations, concentrated into a few roost sites. Mexican free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) are an excellent example. Single-cave roosts of these bats can contain tens of millions, therefore the loss of even one such roost would impact a significant portion of the species, hence the protection of Bracken Bat Cave in Texas.


Wherever bats concentrate they are vulnerable to a variety of human-caused disturbances. At least three endangered species (Indiana, Gray and Sanborn's long-nosed bats) have abandoned traditional roost sites because of cave disturbance or expansion of urbanization. (Humphrey, 1978; Wilson, 1985; Tuttle, 1979) Others lose their caves entirely during quarrying operations and vandalism. In the temperate zone, bats typically encountered by cave explorers are either hibernating or rearing young. Disturbances as seemingly trivial as merely entering a roost area or shining a light can result in decreased chances for survival, outright death, or abandonment of the roost site.


Problems caused by disturbing hibernating bats also relate to energy requirements. During winter, bats in hibernation go for long periods without eating, allowing their body temperatures to drop often to near freezing. The energy reserves they accumulate prior to hibernation may be only slightly more than what is needed to survive the winter. Disturbance during hibernation can arouse bats prematurely, elevating body temperatures and utilizing stored energy. They may return to a state of torpor after a disturbance, but without sufficient energy to survive until spring.


General habitat alteration and degradation can be important. For instance, two North American long-nosed bats on the IUCN red list, are being disturbed in their cave roosts, as well as threatened by declining food resources. The bats live in desert regions of the southwestern United States and Mexico, they feed on the nectar of desert flowers, particularly wild agaves. But these plants have been severely reduced by cattle grazing and by moon-shiners who harvest them for making tequila. As long-nosed bats decline, their loss in turn threatens organ pipe, saguaro and other giant cacti, attributable, in large part, to the decline of their bat pollinators. (Wilson, 1985)


Insecticides have had a negative impact on many bat populations. (Stebbings, 1985) At least two likely effects are direct poisoning and changes in the food resource base of insectivorous bats. Direct poisoning by DDT (now banned for use in the United States) and other organochlorine pesticides has been widely implicated in the declines of many populations. (Lukins, 1964; Geluso, 1981) While pesticide poisoning has clearly been a factor in bat population decline, there has been a tendency to over-emphasize its importance, distracting attention from other, more significant, causes. (McCracken, 1986) This does not exonerate pesticides, but rather points to what are often even more important causes of bat population decline: roost site interference and the reduction of feeding habitat.


Habitat Protection


From what we know about the impact of human activities on bat populations, roost site disturbance, vandalism and habitat destruction have all had severe effects, particularly on cave-dwelling bats. People, who visit caves, both professionally and/or for recreation, need to be acutely aware of the potential damage they can do to the resident bats.


Bats select cave sites because they fulfill very specific requirements involving cave structure, air circulation patterns, temperature profiles and location relative to feeding sites. (Tuttle, 1979) Since these requirements are highly specific, suitable caves are relatively rare. For many bat populations, there may be only one or two acceptable roost sites, making these sites absolutely essential to their survival.


There are caves which should be designated as "red caves" with no or limited visitation. Designated "green caves" would not be important to bats or other endangered animals, and could be open to visitation any time. (McCracken, 1988) The major problem is determining which caves belong on the green versus the red list. One obvious red list criterion is whether the cave is a major hibernation and/or maternity roost of endangered bats or those of unknown status. Caves not currently occupied by bats, and for which there is no evidence of prior occupancy, could be green-listed. Judgments will have to be made, often with only limited information.


Listing caves for no access or restricted use can be controversial. In the United States, several local grottos of the National Speleological Society already have constructed such lists and are in the process of evaluating them.




The conservation of bats and caves in our national parklands has come a long way since the National Park Service was founded in 1916. Awareness of the importance of bats, not only to park ecosystems, but also to surrounding areas, is much greater today.


But while many parks have in recent years become more sensitive to protecting bats and caves, funding to erect special bat gates or to conduct surveys can be difficult to find and remains at the bottom of the priority list. While protective gates are a proven help in the recovery of bat populations, the process is very slow. Some bat colonies may be lost before they are protected.


However, our National Park System continues to add new lands with significant bat habitat. Samoa National Park was established in 1988 in American Samoa to protect flying foxes and their unique rain forest habitat. The Samoan flying foxes (Pteropus samoensis) are currently being evaluated for endangered or threatened listing. (Lera, 2000)


Unlike most other park mammals, bats know no boundaries. They may go home in the morning to a particular park, but can also provide tremendous ecological benefits far beyond their park's borders. Parks are increasingly living up to their mission of conserving habitat for all their wildlife, including bats. But park visitors too must change their attitudes and learn to respect the homes of these animals. With as much beauty as we have in our national parks, there is still plenty for visitors to explore rather than disturb the fragile habitat where bats live.


Through the local grottos, the NSS contributes key information about the location and character of undeveloped and developed caves. Knowledge of these caves and increased cooperation with caving groups and federal agencies will result in better management and protection of these valuable resources.


Today, sustainability is the keyword for environmentalists, or, for that matter, anyone who cares about the future of the planet. We want to preserve as much of the natural world as possible. The question long ago stopped being about the existence of national parks, but about the ongoing quality of these parks. Federal and state laws provide remedies and cures, land acquisition and preservation methods. The NSS and other national organizations provide volunteers to help make these laws work.



Footnote: This paper and all of the appendices and tables can be found on the NSS Conservation and Management Sections website located at http://www.caves.org/section/ccms/. Look for the Cave and Bat Protection Law Site.




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Geluso, K.N., J.S. Altenbach, and D.E. Wilson. 1981. Organochlorine

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Lera, T. 2000. A National Park for Bats. Topical Times. Manuscript accepted for publication.


Luckens, M.M. and W.H. Davis. 1964. Bats: sensitivity to DDT. Science, 146:948.


Musgrave, Ruth. Et.al. 1998. Federal Wildlife and Related Laws Handbook. Center for Wildlife Law - Government Institutes Division, 665pp.


McCracken. G.F. 1986. Why are we losing our Mexican free-tailed bats BATS, 3(3): 1-2 & 4.


McCracken, G.F. 1988. Who is endangered and what can we do BATS, 6(3): 5-9.


Nowak, Ronald M. 1994. Walkers Bats of the World. 287pp.


Stebbings, R.E. 1988. Conservation of European Bats, Christopher Helm, London, 246 pp.


Tuttle, M.D. 1979. Status, causes of decline, and management of

endangered gray bats. J. Wildlife Management., 43:1-17.


Wilson, D.E. 1985. Status Report: Leptonycteris sanborni, Hoffmeister. Sanborn's long-nosed bat. Report to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.



Internet References:


Fish and Wildlife Public Laws: (http://www.fws.gov/laws/digest/reslaws/laws.html)


National Parks Locations: (http://www.nps.gov/parklists/byname.htm)


NPS Rules and Regulations U. S. Code Title 16, Conservation: (http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/16/ch1.text.html)


Fish and Wildlife Endangered Species: (http://endangered.fws.gov/mammals1.html)


State Wildlife Laws: http://ipl.unm.edu/cwl/statbook/intro.html


National Speleological Society: (http://www.caves.org)


The Nature Conservancy: (http://www.tnc.org)


The World Wildlife Fund: (http://www.wwf.org)


Bat Conservation International: (http://www.batcon.org)


American Cave Conservation Association: (http://www.cavern.org/acabout.html)


Karst Waters Institute (http://www.karstwaters.org)


The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources: (http://www.wcmc.org.uk/species/animals/table1.html)


The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES): (http://www.wcmc.org.uk/CITES/index.shtml)


The NSS Conservation and Management Sections Website: http://www.caves.org/section/cms/



Additional Reading:


Bradshaw, E. 1982, "Cave Laws of the United States", National Cave Management Symposia Proceedings for 1978 and 1980, editors, Ronald Wilson and Julian Lewis, Pygmy Dwarf Press, Oregon City, Oregon, pp. 214-227.


Huppert, G.N. and B.J. Wheeler, 1982, "State legislation concerning the protection of caves', National Cave Management Symposia Proceedings for 1978 and 1980, editors, Ronald Wilson and Julian Lewis, Pygmy Dwarf Press, Oregon City, Oregon, pp. 45-47.


LaMoreaux, P.E., W.J. Powell and H.E. LeGrand, 1997, "Environmental and legal aspects of karst areas", Environmental Geology, Vol. 29,No. 1/2, January, pp.23-36.


Power, C.L., 1974, A Handbook on Cave Conservation Legislation, Conservation Committee of the National Speleological Society, Huntsville, Alabama, unpaged.


Stitt, R.R., 1976, "State cave protection law and their enforcement", 1975 National Cave Management Symposium, Speleobooks, Albuquerque, New Mexico, pp. 91-97.