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Burnsville Cove Significant Karst Area

 

Biodiversity Significance Rank: B1 – First order global significance
Legal status:  Federally Endangered, 2 species
Federally Threatened, 1 species
State Endangered, 2 species


The Burnsville Cove Significant Karst Area is an approximately 18 square-mile area designated by the Natural Heritage Program of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. The area straddles the Highland-Bath county line near the town of Burnsville, Virginia. The cove is characterized by a complex drainage system where under normal conditions all water sinks and is then discharged through four springs along the Bullpasture River, a stocked trout stream, at the northeast end of the cove. The springs and their recharge areas are Emory, Aqua, Cathedral and Blue (see the accompanying map). The recharge areas of these four springs have been determined by 27 dye traces from sinking points to these springs (Davis, 2015).

The Burnsville Cove contains 97 known caves (White, 2015) which contain over 75 miles of surveyed passageways (VSS, 2016). Two of the caves have been declared National Natural Landmarks by the United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service. Fourteen of the caves are listed as Significant by the Virginia Speleological Survey and the Virginia Cave Board (Orndorff, 2016b).

Caves in the Burnsville Cove contain federally endangered bats such as the Indiana bat, Northern long-eared bat, and the Virginia Big-eared bat. They also contain populations of the soon to be State listed Tri-Colored bat and Little Brown bat. In addition, Holsinger et. al. (2013) list no less than six invertebrate species found in the Burnsville Cove which are ranked G1 or G2 (NatureServe, 2016; Virginia, 2015). As a result the Burnsville Cove has been recognized by the Virginia Cave Board and the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, on the recommendation of the Virginia Speleological Survey, as one of the seven most significant karst areas in Virginia. The entire Burnsville Cove has been listed as a Conservation Site by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Natural Heritage Program (Orndorff, 2016a). In spite of this many of the caves remain un-surveyed for bats and un-sampled for invertebrate fauna.

Rick Lambert
Highland County Cave Survey