Bear Cave Bat Mist-Netting and Graffiti Removal

Bear Cave Preserve

October 19

On Friday, 05 August 2011, Joe Duchamp, Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, asked permission for his grad student, Laura D’Acunto, to mist net bats outside Bear Cave. Always happy to encourage scientific studies, we granted permission and arranged for Joe to drive up the mountain with his students and equipment.

The next day, I looped a combination padlock through the other locks on the Bear Cave Parking Lot gate chain, and informed Joe that he could drive an IUP van up the following week.

Joe and his students have been studying woodrats for several years. They are also curious about the impact of Geomyces destructans on Bear Cave’s large, multi-species bat population.

Kim’s uncle and aunt, Cal and Joyce Smith, had a logging company remove timber from the tract that they own down by the Bear Cave Parking Lot gate and extending up along the left side of the access road towards the cave. Kim and I own an easement through that tract, up to the Big Rocks where our property starts. I was concerned about the condition of our road, so I talked with the loggers. They smoothed out the road, and restored drainage channels.

On Thursday morning, 11 August, Joe e-mailed a report about their findings. Excerpts from our correspondence appear below.

Hi Tom,

We caught 17 bats last night. I don’t have the exact species numbers on me, but we caught 3 small-footed bats, 1 big brown bat, and the rest were a mixture of northern long-eared bats and little brown bats. Most of the bats were males. We were intending to radio-tag one of the small-footed bats, but we (I) let it escape right before radio-tagging it. We did tag a northern long-eared bat instead. We would like to be able to check on its location today and tomorrow.

Can we leave the lock on the gate through Friday to make it easier to find the day roost for this bat?

Couple other things:

The road near the logging was passable.

Also, I noticed that someone wrote on the cave walls near the entrance with white paint. I did not know if you were aware of this.

Thanks

Joe Duchamp
Assistant Professor
Department of Biology
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
jduchamp@iup.edu
724-357-1299 (office)

The next day, I replied:

Joe,

The combo padlock should still be looped through the other two locks.

Kim and I are delighted to learn that you caught 17 bats, and that they represent a variety of species!

What about migratory bat species? We’re curious about their populations. Would they INCREASE to fill niches vacated by over-wintering species? Or has G. destructans also infected species that rarely enter caves? It’s probably too early to see much of a difference, and maybe nobody has ever established some baseline to work from.

The white paint near the entrance might be some very old stubborn graffiti that we have not been able to dissolve or remove with abrasive methods, but we’ll check this as soon as possible.

We hope that you’ll have similar results with other cave areas.

A few hardy individuals might exhibit resistance to the fungus. It sort of reminds me of the American chestnut situation, with efforts to back cross resistant strains of chestnuts that could eventually be used to restore that tree to its former glory in PA’s forests.

Tom

Joe’s anwer:

Hi Tom,

All the bats that we caught hibernate in caves and are affected by white nose syndrome. I am hoping that we will end up with bats resistant to White Nose, but we will have to wait and see. I expect bats that are less affected by White Nose to have an advantage and become more prevalent.

I didn’t remember seeing the graffiti before. It looked like some names like “Fred” and “Tom” and also in the little nook to the right of the main entrance one of my students said he saw something like “Beware of Bats”. I had just ducked in to the entrance to look for woodrat sign. There was still a couple of latrines, but with the humidity it is hard to say how recently it was used.

Thanks for leaving the padlock on. I’ll let you know what we find.

Joe

Nearly all of our summer’s caving was devoted to Fayette County’s Barton Cave project, to various Chestnut Ridge digs, to renovations at the MAKC’s Blairsville headquarters building, and to Pocahontas County West Virginia’s Swago Creek area cave mapping. As usual, there just wasn’t enough time in every week for the things we wanted to do.

At the end of August, I crammed my 40 billable work hours into three days, freeing up time to check Joe’s report about the Bear Cave graffiti. Joe’s detailed report suggested that this was not the stubborn old white paint that I originally believed it to be. On the Sunday before OTR, I loaded my caving pack with graffiti removal tools and materials, packed some snacks, loaded Bart into my Toyota, switched to 4WD, and headed up Chestnut Ridge. (For non-cavers reading this, the date was August 28th. Cavers use time frames built around OTR, various regional caving events, the NSS Convention, and the opening and closing dates of bat hibernacula—sort of like little kids referring to “the week before Christmas,” or “the week after school lets out.”)

We parked at the Big Rocks and hiked the well-worn path up Bear Cave Hollow. Twice, Bart stopped at rocks in the trail to sniff coyote scat. He urinated on each rock, stepped forward, and vigorously swept his hind paws on the soil, propelling sand, small rocks, leaves, twigs, and desiccated chunks of coyote crap onto my legs! He tried to avoid the dust cloud thus created, but couldn’t, so he sneezed on me.

We reached a swampy part of the trail. Bart’s hair bristled all along his back. He pointed his snout into fresh bear paw prints with muddy water still swirling into them. Bart doesn’t like bears, so I was tripping over him the rest of the way to the cave. Now he got his exposure to the desiccated coyote crap that adhered to my legs by his own dog snot.

Arriving at Bear Cave’s entrance, I paused to examine various plants and lifted some rocks to check for salamanders. Several seal salamanders scurried into the muddied water, along with one two-lined salamander and a robust mountain dusky. I slipped on Bart’s collar light. He bolted into the cave while I changed into appropriate clothing (rinsing the dog snot off my legs before slipping into long pants), donned my gear, and followed the frisky canine.

Immediately inside, I spotted light gray spray painted dots that continued down the stream passage. Close to the entrance was the name “fREd” painted in a childish mixture of lower and upper case letters, along with “Om,” which could have been the name “Tom” that Joe reported, missing the letter T.

Fortunately, the paint had not dried on the moist cave surfaces. Cavers moving through the passageway had already partly abraded off gray dots painted on protruding surfaces.

I removed the remainders with a rag or my leather gloves. Some required wire brush scrubbing, but none required use of a solvent and the rags and plastic bags that I had in my pack.

About 100 feet from the entrance, I noticed several long-tailed salamanders clinging to the walls, some pointed head-up, some pointed head-down, and all springing to the floor when I got within a foot or two of them. In the stream, I saw two species of crayfish, and made a note to myself to learn more about them.

The fact that the gray dots began right at the entrance implies a night trip when daylight was not visible. The dots followed the stream deeper into the cave. Within a couple hundred feet, few of them were worn off. As I brushed each one off the wall or ceiling, I realized that the people who painted them were truly dimwits. Even one-celled organisms can detect water current movement! The dot-painters apparently believed that they were incapable of following flowing water back upstream to their entry point! I pondered how many hikes it took for these morons to find the entrance.

Occasionally, the dot painters attempted to inscribe crude arrows pointing downstream into the cave. These arrows, if you could call them that, looked like the product of inept silverback monkeys that had consumed a case of beer. Maybe the dot-painters were young children assigned the task of marking the route for adults accompanying them? Perhaps the adults believed that THEY could not be accused of cave vandalism because THEY didn’t paint the dots and arrows? There’s probably some contorted thought process that no sane person could deduce or fathom.

The dot-painters at times ventured into low crawlways, painted a thick line, and then retreated to try another crawlway. At one point, the dot-painters became emboldened enough to continue into a maze. There, the dots were dry. I wore two wire brushes clear down to their wooden handles, and spent half of the graffiti removal trip just in that area. Eventually, the dot-painters circled back to the stream. Again, I chuckled. Raccoon paw-prints were superimposed over the knee and hand-prints of crawling cavers. Those small mammals are much smarter and much more aware of their surroundings than the subspecies of humanity that I’m calling the dot-painters.
And the knee and hand prints were all adult-sized, not young children.

Bart, ever impatient, and ever curious, could not stay in one place while I wire-brushed graffiti. Using his collar light, he navigated through many parts of Bear Cave’s maze, exploring, leaving occasional white belly hairs in the mud. At one point, he began barking. I squirmed ahead to find him sticking his snout into a crack full of fresh green fern fronds on top of a pair of eyeglasses, a 1939 Jefferson nickel, and a flashlight bulb. Woodrats! Bart probably saw or smelled or heard one. I grabbed him and tried to pry open his jaws, which he clenched tightly. I didn’t see any fur or woodrat body parts protruding between his teeth, so I assumed that he hadn’t captured and eaten a woodrat. Dogs would make excellent helpers to assist with the capture of small mammals, if they didn’t consume the objects of study!

Most Bear Cave visitors at the very least strive to reach the Serpent’s Sanctum, which is why the register book is placed there. I decided to check that area, and to venture a bit further back into the cave to see whether other graffiti required removal. The dot-painters were evidently completely unfamiliar with Bear Cave. They went right past but did not enter Backbreaker Pass, the low, wet crawlway that leads to the bulk of Bear Cave.

Satisfied that these pea-brained idiots had confined their vandalism to the front part of the cave, Bart and I took the updip path out. I had to lift Bart up the Headhigh Hall, and help him straddle another spot that’s tricky for dogs. Bart knew exactly where he was, and tried to straddle the hole by himself. No gray spray paint, no litter. The pinheads had not reached this area.

I laughed at myself. Would a cave trip with a canine companion be considered “solo caving”? Probably not. Dogs accompany blind people and police officers, for example. Bart easily could surpass cave vandals in many categories of logic, using senses, and reasoning through cave passageway navigation. We could safely state that there was more brainpower at work during the moment when Bart was barking at woodrats than during the entire cave trip of the dot painters.

We exited into a warm summer afternoon. Our graffiti removal efforts took five and a half hours. One wonders how these callous, ruthless insensitive vandals would react if a group of cavers would appear at their front door, open cans of spray paint, and begin marking walls and furniture with dots so that we could find our way back to the front door after we raided their refrigerator.

At least they left no litter. However, I surmised that the organized groups that we allow into the cave probably picked up and packed out empty spray paint and beverage cans.

I languished at the entrance, lying on the Dinner Rock, listening to the summer woods. Bear Cave is far enough up the mountain that many human-created sounds are muffled, except aircraft and trains. Bart sprawled on the rock, spotlighted by a shaft of sunlight. I could hear him breathing over the gentle rustle of tree leaves.

Back down in the Bear Cave Parking Lot, I locked the gate and pulled up to the trash can. Having just spent the equivalent of an entire workday cleaning up after miscreants, I now faced a seething, stinking barrel of garbage writhing with maggots. Pulling on old throw-away gloves, I reached in and found three empty spray paint cans, three light gray plastic spray paint can tops, and a slew of Keystone Light beer cans. This suggested that the dot-painters may have indeed littered, and that other subsequent groups of cavers had picked up their litter. This also suggested that some adults were on that trip, or perhaps they were ALL adults who never attained full mental development.

In a rare moment of clear thought, I asked myself, “Why am I playing trash-man for half-brained idiots?”

During the summer of 2011, the Bear Cave Parking Lot trash can began to attract garbage-scattering bears and raccoons. And it was literally falling apart at the seams. I decided to empty its soggy, gut-wrenching mass one last time into a large heavy-duty bag. Then I rolled its rusted carcass onto its side, and jumped up and down on it to flatten it. I hauled the contents over to Ridgeview Park for the trash pickup, and gave the flattened can to the Park’s caretaker for scrap recycling.

From now on, Bear Cave visitors will have to haul away their own trash. I posted a sign: “You pack it in, you pack it back out. You fail to pack it out, you get kicked out.”

Fortunately, this was the only incident of vandalism at Bear Cave during 2011.