Conserving an Ozark Cave

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Published on: Oct. 2, 2007

Last revision: Dec. 3, 2010

Tumbling Creek Cavesnail Working Group brought together landowners and scientists to determine what had happened. We concluded that sediment from surface erosion was the most likely factor affecting the cavesnail population.

Twenty to 30 years ago, many forested areas in Missouri were cleared to create permanent pasture. This increased soil erosion, especially on steeper slopes in the first year after clearing or following droughts. Although the cave has no upstream entrance, the sediments worked down through sinkholes and losing streams into the cave.

A Working Group

Our group has worked on many fronts to restore or protect the cave’s unique habitat and inhabitants. In 2005, scientists placed terra cotta tiles in a cavesnail refuge area. Cavesnails were recently found on those tiles, creating hope that they may use them for feeding on microbes and laying eggs. Tumbling Creek cavesnails may rescue themselves this way.

In 2006, we built a small cavesnail laboratory in the cave, where we have done preliminary tests. If necessary, cavesnails might be propagated in the lab and then stocked in Tumbling Creek.

We sampled the water with highly sensitive equipment that detects parts per quadrillion, but found only tiny amounts of a few chemicals that were of no concern. Working with the Missouri Department of Transportation to monitor a resurfacing project on Highway 160 in the recharge area, we determined that their “chip and seal” method using an asphalt-water emulsion did not introduce any detectable petroleum products into the road ditches or the groundwater.

We also got help from the Conservation Department, which worked with the Ozark Underground Laboratory and the local community to help a school replace a sewage lagoon that was leaking most of its contents into the groundwater system feeding Tumbling Creek Cave (See The School and the Cavesnail; September 2006). A modern peat-filtration system was installed with the help of grants and substantial local contributions.

Because surface and subsurface are connected, caves cannot be protected without protecting the land that contributes water to them.

The Aleys bought nearby properties to help protect the cave and its critters. They used cost-share funds from the Conservation Department and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to plant 70,000 trees to help restore the land.

Although some Ozark Underground Laboratory lands are used for raising cattle or growing hay, the overall goal is to create a landscape dominated by native species, including black oak, northern red oak, white oak, black gum, black walnut, green ash,

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