Members of the National Speleological Society will be able to visit caves near Glenwood Springs, Colo., as part of their annual convention beginning tomorrow, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., ruled today (Center for Biological Diversity v. Salazar, 11-1241-JEB, D.D.C.).
The Center for Biological Diversity sued the Bureau of Land Management July 6, claiming that allowing access to two caves would place bats "at substantial risk of dying from White-Nose syndrome," a deadly fungal disease that has already killed off more than 1 million cave-hibernating bats since it was discovered in 2006, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Specifically, CBD alleged BLM did not comply with the National Environmental Policy Act or the Federal Land Policy and Management Act when it approved a special recreation permit (SRP) for the cave visits.
But U.S. District Judge James Boasberg concluded BLM's decision was not "arbitrary and capricious" under the Administrative Procedure Act. BLM easily met the NEPA test of taking a "hard look" at the environmental consequences before issuing the SUP, Boasberg said, citing the "length and comprehensiveness" of its Environmental Assessment. He also found nothing in the record to show that issuance of the SUP violated FLPMA.
The judge agreed with the government and the NSS, which intervened in the case, that it's better to have the SRP in place than nothing at all, because "ultimately, anyone can go in" to the caves anyway. BLM has not shut down LaSunder Cave or Anvil Points Cave to the public.
The government and NSS said precautions will be taken both before and after the visits that should eliminate the possibility of spreading WNS to Colorado. Visitors will have to comply with "very specific and detailed" decontamination procedures before entering and after leaving the caves, Boasberg said from the bench. He noted that BLM would oversee the decontamination procedures.
"This isn't a case of a group of drunken swimmers" destroying fragile cultural artifacts or cave paintings, the judge said.
According to NSS, "The decontamination station will have pressure washers and scrub brushes for removing dirt in the ‘contaminated’ section of the station. Equipment and clothing with dirt removed will be soaked in decontaminating solution for ten minutes to kill any potentially remaining spores of Geomyces destructans. Rinse baths will then be used to clean the clothing and equipment of the decontaminating solution. Drying will be accomplished by the warm weather and Colorado’s legendary low humidity. Fences next to the decon station can be used to hang drying gear."
http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/press_releases/2011/white-nose-syndrome-07-06-2011.html CBD news release (7/6/11)
NSS letter re: CBD notice of intent to sue
Review finds ESA protection may be warranted for two bat species (FWS release, 6/28/11)