In light of the devastation that White Nose Syndrome (WNS) has caused to bat populations in the eastern half of the United States, the WCC has developed an interim policy regarding the cross contamination of caves, both generally and in response to the concern about spreading WNS. Information on current locations known to have WNS changes as time passes and we are prepared to modify this policy as the need arises.
WNS is a deadly condition affecting bats, primarily east of the Mississippi River in the United States, but in recent years it has spread west to a few locations in the great plains over to the Rocky Mountains, with a couple of incidences found in Washington State. Now 36 states are directly affected. It has also reached a significant distance to the north in Canada. Everyone throughout the country is concerned about trying to prevent the continuing spread of this disease. Although there is no hard evidence that humans are responsible, until contrary information is discovered on the nature and vectors of this disease we must assume that humans going into caves have the potential of spreading pathogens from one cave to another.
While WNS has become a very newsworthy example of possible cross contamination, we have to consider that we may be guilty of spreading other contaminants from cave to cave with consequences we are as yet unaware of. We can see this happening from something as easy to observe as spreading burr seeds from one location to another as they hitchhike on our boot laces or pant cuffs. It seems likely that we may also be responsible for transporting micro-fauna or flora locked in the mud caked into the tread of our boots or in the fabric of muddy overalls, to other caves. Perhaps now is the time to reevaluate our gear cleaning practices, or lack of such practices, and consider the health of the caves and the other environments we impact.
With this concept in mind the WCC has decided to adopt a policy for gear management, one that will probably be amended, as additional information becomes available.
WCC Cave Cross-Contamination Policy
The WCC strongly encourages cavers to thoroughly clean all their cave gear between trips. Ideally it would be best to clean gear between every trip into a different cave; while we recognize that on expeditions or other extended trips this may not be easily done, we suggest cavers begin to think of ways this can be addressed. With regard to WNS specifically, we request that no caving gear that has been used in the affected states or countries be used ANYWHERE else, not here in the west or elsewhere in the world. Decontamination procedures have been developed, such as those published by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and available through the NSS website (http://www.caves.org/WNS), which has an excellent description of how to clean and decontaminate caving gear. While the WCC is not requiring the use of these decontamination procedures at Rippled, Windeler, Avalanche, Mountain Ranch or the SVR Caves at this time, cavers should consult these for gear cleaning guidelines.