Citizen scientists reveal subterranean resources in need of protection

Members of the Bigfork Cave Club, the Northern Rocky Mountain Grotto and BLM & U.S. Forest Service staff at the entrance to a cave in the Pryor Mountains of south-central Montana. Hans Bodenhamer (center, in red jacket), science instructor and leader of the Bigfork cave club, is a nationally recognized expert in cave mapping, ensuring that his students’ data collections meet National Speleological Society standards and agency needs.
The Bigfork club’s inventory identified specific areas of Mystery Cave where restricted access will preserve spectacular features like this flowstone mineral deposit. Establishing closure points from which features can still be viewed is part of the cave management plan the BLM is drafting. The club’s monitoring data also identifies graffiti and other instances of damage that can be restored or remediated under the final plan.
Townsend’s big-eared bats are among the species at risk from White-nose syndrome (WNS), a fungal infection that is nearly 100 percent fatal to infected individual animals and can devastate bat colonies. Mystery Cave is an important hibernaculum (winter habitat) for bats. Climatological data the Bigfork club collected will help establish whether the temperatures and humidity levels there are conducive to the growth and persistence of Pseudogymnoascus destructans, the fungus that causes WNS, and what management actions can prevent its introduction into Pryor Mountain caves.

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The BLM manages one in every 10 acres of land in the United States, and approximately 30 percent of the Nation’s minerals.

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Bureau of Land Management

Bureau of Land Management

The BLM manages one in every 10 acres of land in the United States, and approximately 30 percent of the Nation’s minerals.

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