Southeastern Cave Conservancy Buys Wolf River Cave, Establishes 22-Acre Preserve

We are pleased to announce that the Southeastern Cave Conservancy Inc., in partnership with The Nature Conservancy , Tennessee Chapter (TNC) and Bat Conservation International (BCI), has purchased Wolf River Cave and 33 acres of surrounding karst land near Jamestown in Fentress County Tennessee. The cave and surrounding property were part of a family farm that was sold at auction on July 20, 2002. Our cave conservation partnership was able to outbid other potential buyers with a winning bid for the cave tract of $74,000. The purchase was completed on Friday, August 16, in Cookeville ,Tennessee, when SCCi Chair Diane Cousineau and Treasurer Buddy Lane delivered the check and signed the papers. The SCCi now holds title to the property and will manage it under a joint agreement with TNC.

Wolf River Cave is more than eight miles long and is one of the most significant caves in North America in terms of its biology, anthropology, archeology and zoology. According to Jan F. Simek, professor of Anthropology at the University of Tennessee, Wolf River Cave contains the oldest known human footprints found in the dark zone of a cave. Also preserved in the cave are extinct Jaguar tracks and skeletons.

The cave also contains Tennessee’s second-largest hibernation colony of the rarest endangered bat species in the Southeast – the Indiana bat. According to a survey conducted by Tennessee Technological University, the winter colony numbers between 2,400 and 2,500 bats. One of the first species to be placed on the federal endangered species list, Indiana bats hibernate in caves from September through early April. The cave is also known to house a small number of federally listed endangered Gray Bats in the summer, as well as a few Rafinesque’s Big-Eared Bats. In addition, cavers have reported observing blind crayfish and cave beetles.

The Nature Conservancy , Tennessee Chapter and SCCi operate under a Memorandum of Understanding for joint projects involving caves and cave protection in Tennessee.  Along with its other goals and objectives, the ability to act quickly and in concert to purchase caves in immediate danger is one reason the MOU was implemented.  In a land auction participants often have little time to prepare and prices can soar above appraised values.  This important acquisition would not have taken place without the financial assistance of TNC and Bat Conservation International.  Gabby Call, Director of Protection for TNC’s Tennessee Chapter, and Jim Kennedy, Assistant Director of BCI’s North American Bat Conservation Partnership, were instrumental in securing the necessary financial support and in forging a successful partnership among the three organizations.

Over the past 5 years, TNC has invested significant conservation efforts toward the protection of Wolf River Cave, a Nature Conservancy eco-region priority site. Discussions with the landowners to protect the bats began in 1998 and continued for several years. The primary concern for the cave has always been protection of the endangered Indiana bats that hibernate there in the winter. In March 1999, Heather Garland – Cave Program Coordinator, and Gabby Call – Director of Land Acquisition, both with the The Nature Conservancy , Tennessee Chapter, forged a Cooperative Management Agreement between the Pile family heirs, TNC, Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency (TWRA), and the Upper Cumberland Grotto (UCG). Later that summer cavers discovered a grisly massacre. Someone callously knocked approximately 40 bats, including many Indiana bats, off of the wall and killed them. As an emergency reaction to this incident, funding was secured from several partners including US Fish and Wildlife Service, BCI, and the Wallace Research Foundation, and the cave entrance was gated.

While TNC made significant progress in protecting the bats, there was still no permanent protection for the cave. Ownership of the property was distributed among eight family members, complicating the discussions. When agreement on the disposition of the farm could not be reached, the family decided to sell it at auction. TNC prepared to try to purchase the cave at auction, and received offers of assistance from BCI and the SCCi. TNC and SCCi researched land values and agreed on a joint bidding strategy for the auction.

The farm being auctioned was 474 acres divided into 28 separate parcels for bidding. Bidding for the 33-acre cave tract opened at $50,000 and climbed higher as several bidders competed. The SCCi won the bidding at $74,000, backed by a TNC contribution of $30,836 and a $10,000 commitment from Bat Conservation International. Even though we won the bidding at $74,000 we could have still lost because at the end of the auction the entire farm is offered as a whole to the highest bidder. The situation was truly nail-biting. Fortunately, no one came forward to buy the farm as a whole.

Wolf River Cave will continue to be managed by the Wolf River Management Committee of the Upper Cumberland Grotto (UCG) of the National Speleological Society in conjunction with the SCCi and the TNC.  The management policy and procedures currently in place are not expected to undergo any major changes. Currently, the Wolf River Management Committee (WRMC) members are: Kristen Bobo, Chair, with Anthony Olberding, James Greene, and Nora Dickinsas Cave Managers. Permission is required to enter the cave, which is open from May through August.

The current management plan, access procedures, policies, and contacts for the Wolf River Cave Preserve may be found on the SCCi web site preserves page. Access to the cave for 2002 ended on September 16, 2002, with the beginning of the bat hibernation season.  Wolf River Cave will continue to be managed to allow access in the spring and summer but will remain closed to visitation during the winter months to protect the hibernating bats.

The SCCi Directors are very exited about this cooperative effort to protect one of Tennessee’s most significant caves. We are counting on the help and support of the caving community in meeting the financial and stewardship responsibilities that come with ownership of this important cave. As you know, SCCi recently purchased Snail Shell Cave in Tennessee and Valhalla Cave in Alabama. Acquiring these three fantastic preserves in the same year has severely depleted our operating cash, increased our debt load to the highest level since we began purchasing caves, and significantly reduced our ability to act quickly in situations like the Wolf River Cave auction. We need your help to get back to full strength, so that we are able to take advantage of new opportunities as they arise.

In another sense, however, this is not entirely a bad thing, because it provides a yardstick for measuring our success in carrying out our mission! The SCCi aggressively pursues the acquisition of significant caves throughout the southeast, and has a well-defined mission and plan for cave protection and management. Cave acquisition is our business. Your support, both financial and through volunteer efforts, makes it possible for cavers to acquire, manage, protect, and enjoy southeastern caves.

Our main limitation in pursuing these projects is financial – we have to be sure we can pay for them. Before the Wolf River Cave auction, we had a debt load of more than $250,000, which we service through monthly mortgage payments. After the contributions from TNC and BCI for the purchase of Wolf River Cave, we have still increased this amount by more than $33,000 to a total of over $283,000. This figure covers only the mortgage amounts and does not include expenses such as surveys, title work, property maintenance, insurance, or other monthly operating expenses.

Right now we have more than a dozen more great caves either in negotiation or under consideration for acquisition. Unless we can raise more money, we can not buy more caves until we reduce or pay down our debt. Our greatest need is therefore financial, and you can best help the Conservancy acquire caves by contributing according to your means and ability. About 60% to 70% of the money that we use to make our mortgage payments comes from monthly donations by SCCi Sustaining Members. The rest is raised through the SCCi booth at caving events, or by special grants from individuals or organizations.

Please consider joining SCCi as a Sustaining Member, and helping to pay for the caves we all love and enjoy. For as little as $10 a month you can be a cave owner. Regular memberships are also available for $25 per year.

The following links provide information about our partners in the purchase of Wolf River Cave:

The Nature Conservancy, Tennessee Chapter nature.org/wherewework/northamerica/states/tennessee/

Bat Conservation International, Inc. www.batcon.org/

Southeastern Cave Conservancy Acquires Holly Creek Cave

Nashville/Atlanta – The Southeastern Cave Conservancy, Inc. (SCCi) and The Nature Conservancy of Tennessee (TNC) have pooled their resources to buy an important Gray bat cave in Wayne County, Tennessee.

The Holly Creek Cave Preserve near Iron City, Tenn. has been purchased from Forest Systems, Inc., a forest management company that operates and manages forestland across the United States on behalf of large institutional investors, including pension funds.  The Preserve is managed as a natural area and wildlife sanctuary to protect and preserve its unique attributes, including an important summer colony of endangered bats.

According to Mark Wolinsky, Acquisitions Chairman for the Southeastern Cave Conservancy, Inc., The Nature Conservancy of Tennessee and the SCCi have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding to share resources and expertise in joint cave conservation projects.  The preserve is being managed to preserve and protect the bats and other wildlife, and is closed from April 1 to September 15 to avoid disturbance of the summer bat colony.

One of the SCCi’s primary activities is the acquisition of caves through purchase, lease, easement, donation, or management agreements. Potential acquisitions are carefully evaluated. Presence of endangered plants or animals, significant geological and hydrological features, wilderness quality, threats from development or exploitation, and access issues all play a role in the evaluation process. The SCCi already protects another Gray  bat cave in north Georgia with an estimated population of 10,000 federally-listed endangered Gray bats.  The SCCi, established in 1991, is a tax-exempt not-for-profit corporation (501-c-3) dedicated to cave conservation and management.

“This is an important cave to protect not only for the endangered Gray bat, but also for the state’s rare Southern cavefish,” said Heather Garland, The Nature Conservancy’s cave program coordinator. The cave will be managed for scientific study, but use will be limited during the summer months when the bats are in residence. TNC’s financial donation was contributed by the Wallace Research Foundation based in Tucson, Arizona.

The SCCi currently manages nineteen cave preserves containing more than 45 significant caves in six southeastern states. Most of the caves are on property owned by the SCCi.  The remaining cave preserves are managed through property leases.  You can learn more about the SCCi by visiting their web site at www.scci.org.

Forest Systems, Inc., is a forest management company that operates and manages forestland across the United States on behalf of large institutional investors, including pension funds.  Scott Griffin, southern region manager for Forest Systems says the company manages each forest with an emphasis on optimizing its investment performance while practicing progressive and responsible stewardship.  This includes identifying lands with unique environmental characteristics, such as the bat cave, and working with public and private conservation groups to place them under permanent protection.  Forest Systems is on the web at www.forestsystems.com.

For additional information, contact Mark Wolinsky, Acquisitions Committee Chairman for the Southeastern Cave Conservancy, at 404-386-7050, or Gina Hancock, Director of Communications for The Nature Conservancy of Tennessee, at 615-383-9909.

Southeastern Cave Conservancy Acquires Frick’s Cave

May 16, 1997

The Southeastern Cave Conservancy is pleased to be the owner of Fricks Cave, 10,000 endangered Gray Bats, Georgia’s only known population of the rare Tennessee Cave Salamander, and 33.8 acres of north Georgia karstland. Without a doubt Fricks is Georgia’s richest biologic spelean environment. It is one of two Gray Bat caves in Georgia. The cave is in Walker County on the eastern flank of Lookout Mountain.

Previous attempts to buy the cave were unsuccessful and the cave, along with the entire 426 acre Meadowview Farm, went up for auction on May 10, 1997. We went to the auction and were able to secure a contract on all the tracts that we wanted to get. The bidding was rather fierce, and we had to pay more than we had hoped, but we got what we need to protect the cave and its inhabitants.

The SCC was represented by a delegation consisting of Bill Putnam, Mark Wolinsky, Buddy Lane, E.T. Davis, Kenneth Huffines, Steve Hudson, Diane Cousineau, and Karen Padgett. All of these people, plus Jim Ozier (Georgia Department of Natural Resources), Andrew Schock (Georgia Nature Conservancy), Jim Godwin (Alabama Natural Heritage Program), Kurt Buhlman (University of Georgia), and several others helped make this acquisition possible.

The SCC took ownership at the closing on June 10, 1997. Financing for this acquisition was provided by the Georgia Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. Additional support was provided by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Fricks Cave is closed to all visitation due to the presence of the endangered bats and salamanders. Entry into the cave may constitute harrassment as defined in Section 9 of the federal Endangered Species Act and is punishable by imprisonment and fines up to $50,000. Please respect the endangered wildlife in this delicate cave.

The SCCi hosts an annual Open House day at the preserve each winter to allow visitors to tour the cave when the bats are not present. For information about the Open House day or to inquire about access to the cave and preserve, contact the Fricks Cave Management Committee.

The “Buy a Fricks Cave Bat” program generates funds to pay off the mortgage, pay property taxes, and pay for the maintenance and upkeep of the preserve. The purchase price was over $100,000, so we’ve really got to sell a LOT of bats! Your tax deductible $10 donation gets you an honorary certificate of adoption (complete with your own bat’s name) and an SCCI bat decal.