The U.S. Forest Service in the southern region is announcing that it's extending a closure order for all caves and mines on its lands for another five years.
The Forest Service says keeping the caves and mines closed to the public until 2019 will help prevent the human spread of white-nose syndrome. That's the devastating infection that is decimating bat colonies and is caused by an invasive fungus that grows in caves.
The Forest Service says the five-year closure period should allow scientists to continue to work on potential solutions to the spread of the disease.
The fungus has killed millions of bats throughout the country.
Keeping bats healthy is important for the agriculture industry, since the animals play a key role in keeping pests under control.
In Arkansas’s national forests, all caves are closed with the exception of Blanchard Springs Caverns in Stone County because it follows U.S. Fish & Wildlife sanitation protocols for visitors.
Violation of the cave closure order could result in fines up to $5,000 for an individual and $10,000 for an organization, imprisonment for up to six months, or both.