Conservation Goes Underground

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Published on: Dec. 2, 1995

Last revision: Oct. 20, 2010

precious fat it needs to survive the winter. If the body fat is consumed before insects are plentiful in the spring, the bats run out of energy and die.Toxins from the surface are also a threat to the creatures that live in caves. An oil spill or gasoline or ammonia from a broken pipe line can easily find its way into the underground. Cave systems that have had pure flowing water over millions of years can be irreversibly damaged by heedless dumping of toxic wastes or runoff from livestock operations and sewers.One way toxins enter caves is through sinkholes. A sinkhole is created when the roof of a cave collapses. Substances entering a cave via a sinkhole could contaminate your well or your neighbor's, or the city water supply. And though the Clean Water Act has made it illegal to use a sinkhole as a dump, people persist, often contaminating the local groundwater as a result.Conservation Department scientists are finding more caves on lands controlled by the agency. A Conservation Department policy manages caves primarily for protection of cave wildlife and habitats. The presence of cultural, geological and biological features, endangered species, cave communities and sensitive cave ecosystems are taken into consideration. Hazardous conditions for humans are also considered.The cave policy acts as a springboard for the Conservation Department's upcoming recreational caving program. We know that caving is popular and we would like to direct visitors to good "recreational" caves.The Conservation Department is not the only organization in the state with an interest in cave conservation. Grottos, groups of people who enter caves to explore, map and enjoy them, are especially active in cave protection. Some have cave clean up days when they repair broken formations, pick up litter and scrub paint off cave walls. The grottos are a good source for information about caves and caving. By joining a local grotto you can have a safe and responsible introduction to caving.The non-profit Cave Research Foundation of Kentucky encourages cave conservation and education and conducts research. The Missouri Caves and Karst Conservancy (MCKC) is increasing ties between the people who are interested in caves. MCKC both owns and manages caves, protecting their geological and recreational aspects.In the future, look for caving programs sponsored by the Conservation Department. And when you visit a cave, recognize it as the unique habitat that it is and take care to protect it, leaving only footprints as a sign of your visit

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