The Tongue River Cave in the Bighorn National Forest will remain closed during the regular season and entry registrations will not be issued to the public until Aug. 1. The cave was closed in 2019 …
The Tongue River Cave in the Bighorn National Forest will remain closed during the regular season and entry registrations will not be issued to the public until Aug. 1. The cave was closed in 2019 after a maternity roost of Townsend’s big-eared bat, a sensitive species, was discovered inside. To comply with standards in the Bighorn National Forest Land Management Plan, forest officials were obligated to close the cave to human entry; the closure allowed the bats to rear their pups undisturbed.
Bighorn officials noted in a news release that the sensitive cave ecosystem has been vandalized and damaged by visitors. Despite years-long efforts to clean up litter and graffiti in the cave, they continue to be an issue.
“In addition to the egregious damage from graffiti and trash, mineral theft is occurring in Tongue River Cave,” the release added. Bighorn officials also say that less than 10% of people who entered the cave had completed the mandatory registration and most didn’t have the appropriate safety gear nor the necessary skills.
Bighorn officials monitored for the Townsend’s big-eared bat species during the summer of 2020 and will continue through July 31. That monitoring will determine how and if bats are using the cave and guide future management decisions.
Bighorn National Forest biologists, in partnership with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, and other agency specialists are also monitoring the spread of white-nose Syndrome (WNS) and Pd (the fungus that causes it) by conducting bat surveys and environmental sampling in caves on the Bighorn National Forest.
All other caves on the forest will open and do require a mandatory registration form that can be found, along with further information on caves, on the forest website at www.fs.usda.gov/bighorn.