Jim Wilbanks Shaves His Head for the SCCi and Breast Cancer Awareness

Saturday evening at TAG was coming about. Gail and I brought our chairs and found a spot. I noticed Cathy Borer, Tim White and Berta Kirchman a couple of rows back and went back to say hello. Somehow the conversation turned to cancer. There is so much of it in my circle of acquaintances right now. I recounted that a friend of mine was going through chemo. She had come up with the idea of shaving her head before the hair began to fall out. She consulted with some of our male friends who had shaved their heads. Soon three of them, including her boyfriend, resolved to shave their heads in solidarity. That moved me to tears. I wondered if I could take that step. All my life I have had a school or occupation which required having my hair cut and shaving. When I retired ten years ago, I resolved to never cut my hair or shave again. I really liked my hair long.

Someone in the conversation said “what would it take to get you to shave your head?” I said “a lot”. Soon I said “for a thousand dollar contribution the SCCI.” Cathy Borer overhead this comment and asked “Are you serious?” I said yes!

Announcements began and soon it was the SCCI’s turn. The first thing Brian Krebs did was award me a service award. That was unexpected and deeply appreciated. As I returned to my seat, I caught Cathy’s eye and, in a moment of nostalgic euphoria, gave her a big “thumbs up”, and shouted “YES!”  At that point, Ron Miller, the SCCi’s Fundraising chair, pulled out a receipt from his wallet, found a pen in his pocket, and jotted down the announcement for Brian to read. He showed it to me and I said ok. Gail had been gone and now she returned. I filled her in. The announcement was made and my commitment was sealed. When Maureen Handler got up to talk about SERA next year, she offered the first hundred dollars. Then Dan Barnick announced that if the thousand was raised, he would add five hundred.

Jim Jim after the head shaving Photo by Chuck Canfield   I love the SCCI. It is a truly remarkable triumph union of will and determination together with the generosity of a lot of cavers. I joined when I first heard about it. I soon made one of their first contributions by guiding a caver who couldn’t find Richard’s Cave. I was a property manager for twelve years of the Fox Mountain Cave Preserve. During that time a bunch of cavers surveyed the property, which had never been done. We built a kiosk, blazed trails, put in fence ladders, opened up Byers with an acquisition and added more property on the north. As far as I know, it is the largest privately owned cave preserve in the world. I retired to devote more time to the SKTF only because I had three other local cavers who deserved a chance to run it. I served on the board of directors through some tumultuous times. I currently sit on the John Van Swearingen IV Stewardship Award board. I want to tell you that the members of the board and the people you think of as central to the conservancy put their money, talent and time where their mouth is. All of you reading this should be proud of this group of speleo-heros.

As the evening progressed, I became anxious. I confided to a few that I was regretting my commitment. Women were running their hands through my hair and bemoaning our loss. If you know me, you know that a commitment made is very important to me. Donna Cobb came by and said she was tasked with finding some clippers. I had said from the beginning that it had to be done right. We discussed maybe just cutting the pony tail. Who would have thought that on the Saturday of TAG someone would have some electric clippers? My luck or curse came in the form of my good friend Allison who had a dog grooming kit.

Soon I noticed Maureen with a fist full of cash. She was working the entire crowd raising the money. This is Maureen’s forte. When the auction wound down, Maureen got up, grabbed the mike and announced she had eight hundred dollars and just needed “ten more twenty dollar bills”. Money began to appear and soon the magic number was reached. Maureen briefly huddled with Bill Putnam and asked over the mike “how much for the beard?” I immediately said “two hundred dollars”. Bill said, “I’ll cover that”. I wish I had said five hundred. I sat down and was confronted with about a hundred camera lenses. The shearing was painless and much less stressful as it was Allison at the helm.

I came home, put away the hair brush, elastic bands and the shampoo and began wearing a hat. I just want to close by saying the best thing you can do, in my opinion, is to become a sustaining member. If we all give what we can, the sky is the limit.

Jim Wilbanks NSS 8967FE, SCCI 89.

Postscript: The total amount raised was $1,700!

 by Jim Wilbanks

SCCi Board Votes to Reopen Tennessee and Kentucky Caves

On May 22nd, 2009 the SCCi Board voted to reopen the following Tennessee caves: Gourdneck Cave, Sinking Cove Cave(s), South Pittsburg, Snail Shell Cave, and Swirl Canyon Cave. Logsdon Cave in Kentucky was also reopened. Please refer to the management plan for each cave
for access guidelines. The following caves in Tennessee and Kentucky will remain closed: Hardins / Junkyard Cave, Holly Creek Cave, Rattling Pit, Wolf River Cave, and Frenchman Knob Cave.

Southeastern Cave Conservancy Acts to Protect Endangered Bat Populations in Caves

The Southeastern Cave Conservancy Inc, (SCCi) has taken precautionary action to help protect bats from White Nose Syndrome (WNS) by temporarily closing several SCCi caves. We are working closely with specialists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other partner organizations to make sure we are aware of all current WNS information and to respond appropriately. We will reopen our caves as soon as the Board determines that it is safe to do so.

Little brown bats with typical symptoms of White Nose Syndrome Credit: Nancy Heaslip, New York Dept. of Environmental Conservation As of April 16, 2009 the following caves have been closed:

Anderson Cave and Fern Cave (Fern Sink Entrance and Surprise Pit) in Alabama; Fricks Cave in Georgia; Frenchman Knob Cave and Logsdon Cave in Kentucky; Gourdneck Cave, Hardins Cave, Holly Creek Cave, Rattling Cave, Sinking Cove Cave Preserve caves, Snail Shell Cave, South Pittsburg Pit, Swirl Canyon Cave and Wolf River Cave, in Tennessee; and Lobelia Saltpeter Cave in West Virginia. The SCCi has a unique history and expertise at successfully balancing conservation and access interests. The SCCi board believes that its highest responsibility is to exercise sound stewardship of our caves and karst lands. This is our duty to the members and donors. While we recognize and sincerely regret that these closures may inconvenience those who would like visit these caves, we are very concerned by the possibility that visitors could inadvertently introduce WNS to SCCi caves and the bats that rely on them for critical habitat.   The SCCi board will be reviewing and discussing these actions at our upcoming quarterly board meeting and annual members’ meeting, both of which will be held on May 16, 2009. All interested parties are invited to attend and share their views and questions.

Reasons for the SCCi’s actions include:

WNS is lethal to hibernating bats, with a near-100% mortality rate. The cause of WNS is poorly understood, and no method of protection or remediation is yet known. WNS is rapidly approaching the southeastern U.S., having recently been confirmed in Virginia and West Virginia. There is mounting evidence that visitors may be unintentionally contributing to the spread of WNS. The stakes are very high, the potential damage is incalculable, and the WNS situation is evolving rapidly. For information and updates on the latest developments regarding WNS and SCCi caves, please see our web site at www.scci.org. For more information on White Nose Syndrome, please visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service WNS page at www.fws.gov/northeast/white_nose.html, or the National Speleological Society’s WNS page at www.caves.org/WNS/WNS Info.htm.

 

Southeastern Cave Conservancy Chair Brian Krebs Issues Letter to Members About WNS

Dear SCCi member,
I am writing to share some important information with you about the SCCi’s response to white-nose syndrome (WNS), and to ask for your help. WNS poses a serious threat to hibernating bats in caves throughout the southeastern U.S., including several that the SCCi owns or manages. The SCCi Board of Directors takes the WNS threat very seriously and continues to closely monitor the situation, work with our partners, communicate with our members, and take steps that are consistent with our goals of cave conservation and protection.
The SCCi is acting to protect bats. The SCCi Board has recently taken precautionary action to help protect bats from WNS by temporarily closing several SCCi caves. We are working closely with specialists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other partner organizations to make sure we are aware of all current WNS information. We will reopen our caves as soon as the Board determines that it is safe to do so.
As of April 10, 2009 the following caves have been closed:

  • Anderson Cave and Fern Cave (Fern Sink Entrance and Surprise Pit) in Alabama;
  • Fricks Cave in Georgia;
  • Frenchman Knob Cave and Logsdon Cave in Kentucky;
  • Gourdneck Cave, Hardins Cave, Holly Creek Cave, Rattling Cave, Sinking Cove Cave Preserve caves, Snail Shell Cave, South Pittsburg Pit, Swirl Canyon Cave and Wolf River Cave, in Tennessee; and
  • Lobelia Saltpeter Cave in West Virginia.

The SCCi has a unique history and expertise at successfully balancing conservation and access interests. The board believes that our highest responsibility is to exercise sound stewardship of our caves and karst lands. This is our duty to the members and donors. While we recognize and sincerely regret that these closures may inconvenience those who would like visit these caves, we are very concerned by the possibility that visitors could inadvertently introduce WNS to SCCi caves and the bats that rely on them for critical habitat. We need your help. As cavers, we all have a responsibility to help protect the fragile ecosystems in the caves that we enjoy visiting. The SCCi needs your help in three ways:

  • Please continue to support the SCCi financially. In the current economic climate, SCCi needs the ongoing support of all of its members in order to continue its mission of acquiring, managing, and protecting caves. With your support, the SCCi protects and manages 63 caves, with more to come.
  • Please abide by all cave closures, and consider following the guidelines outlined in the USFWS Cave Advisory for other caves. Be sure to check the USFWS and SCCi web sites regularly for updates.
  • Please share information about WNS. If you have friends and colleagues who may visit caves but are not members of SCCi or other organized caving groups, please let them know about WNS and the need to take appropriate measures to avoid contributing to its spread.

We need your input. The SCCi board will be reviewing and discussing these actions at our upcoming quarterly board meeting and annual members’ meeting, both of which will be held on May 16, 2009. I invite you to attend these meetings and share your comments and concerns. The meeting times and locations may be found here, as well as in a postcard being mailed to members this week. Why we’re concerned. While many of you have no doubt been following the WNS issue closely over the past year or more, I would like to share some background information that should help to explain why this situation is so serious to SCCi caves and the bats that depend on them for their survival.

  • WNS is lethal to hibernating bats. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, White-nose syndrome has killed an estimated 400,000 hibernating bats since it was first detected in New York state in late 2006. In affected caves and mines, WNS has decimated bat populations, with reported mortality rates in the range of 80 – 100%.
  • The cause of WNS is poorly understood. Despite intensive research efforts over the past two years, scientists still don’t know for sure what causes WNS. The most likely cause appears to be a white fungus found on the surface of bat tissue (hence the name). In January 2009, the U.S. Geological Survey reported that they had identified this fungus as a previously unreported species related to a group of fungi common in soils that are members of the genus Geomyces. Unfortunately, fungi are notoriously hard to kill, especially in their spore form, which can easily become airborne.
  • WNS is rapidly approaching the southeastern U.S. After having steadily but slowly spread throughout New York and New England over the previous two winters, this winter WNS spread rapidly toward the south and west. In the past two months, WNS has been confirmed for the first time in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and most recently in several caves in West Virginia and Virginia. As of March 18, 2009, the southernmost cave known to be affected by WNS, Clover Hollow Cave in Giles County, Virginia, is only 120 miles north of the Tennessee border.
  • Cavers may be unintentionally contributing to the spread of WNS. The bulk of available evidence points to bat-to-bat transmission as the primary method by which WNS is spreading. Earlier this year, however, WNS appeared in caves hundreds of miles beyond its previous southern extent, and was detected only in popular recreational caves, while surrounding, less visited caves remained unaffected. This new pattern suggests the possibility that cavers may be contributing unintentionally to the spread of WNS.
  • The stakes are high. Caves in the southeastern U.S. represent critical habitat for at least two endangered bat species – the gray bat and the Indiana bat. Significant populations of these two endangered bat species are found in several SCCi caves, including over 1.5 million in Fern Cave alone. Given the high mortality rates associated with this condition, WNS has the potential to not only dramatically reduce bat populations, but also could lead to the extinction of these and other bat species.
  • The WNS situation is evolving rapidly. On March 26, 2009, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is responsible for enforcing the terms of the Endangered Species Act, issued a Cave Advisory, in which they requested that cavers voluntarily suspend all caving activities in nine states, including the southeastern states of Virginia and West Virginia, known to be affected by WNS. The advisory also applies to eight adjacent states, including the southeastern states of Kentucky and Tennessee. When visiting caves outside of these states, the Advisory requests that cavers use only gear or clothing that has not been used in a cave in any affected or adjacent state within the past twelve months.

To stay updated on the latest developments regarding SCCi caves, please check our web site at www.scci.org regularly. For more information on White Nose Syndrome, please visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service WNS page at www.fws.gov/northeast/white_nose.html, or the National Speleological Society’s WNS page at www.caves.org/WNS/WNS Info.htm.

Thank you again for your continued support of the mission of the SCCi.

Sincerely,

Brian S. Krebs Chair, CEO, Southeastern Cave Conservancy Inc.

Southeastern Cave Conservancy Acts to Protect Endangered Bat Populations in Caves

On February 7, 2009, the Board of the Southeastern Cave Conservancy, Inc. (SCCi) took precautionary action to protect tens of thousands of endangered bats from deadly White Nose Syndrome (WNS) by closing several SCCi-owned or managed caves in the southeastern U.S. All of the caves being closed are home to significant populations of endangered bats. The selected caves will remain closed until the board determines that it is appropriate to reopen them:

  • Frenchman Knob Cave in Kentucky
  • Wolf River Cave, Holly Creek Cave and Rattling Cave in Tennessee
  • Fricks Cave in Georgia
  • Anderson Cave in Alabama

WNS, a lethal and poorly understood condition affecting hibernating bats, has reportedly killed over 100,000 bats since it was first detected in southeastern New York in late 2006. Where it has been identified, WNS has decimated bat populations, with reported mortality rates in the range of 80 — 100%. After having steadily spread throughout New York and New England over the previous two winters, this winter WNS appears to have spread rapidly toward the south and west. In the past several weeks, WNS has been credibly detected for the first time in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and now West Virginia. Despite intensive research efforts, scientists have not yet determined whether WNS is being spread by bats, humans, both, or by other transmission methods. However, faced with sobering WNS mortality statistics and the fact that the potential for human transmission has not been ruled out, the SCCi Board determined that closure of the listed caves containing endangered bat populations was the most prudent course.

The SCCi board believes that our highest responsibility is to exercise sound stewardship of our caves and the ecosystems they support. Our stewardship responsibility is heightened by the fact that many of our caves provide critical habitat to significant populations of federally-listed endangered bat species. While we recognize and sincerely regret that these closures may inconvenience those who would like visit these caves, we are far more concerned by the potential that human visitors to the caves could unwittingly introduce WNS to SCCi caves.

The SCCi takes the WNS threat seriously and continues to closely monitor the situation and take steps that are consistent with our goals of cave conservation and protection. To stay updated on developments, please check here regularly.