How To Go Caving Legally

In the best of all possible worlds, people would take care of the natural resources around them--using them, to be sure, but not wantonly destroying them for thrills. Unfortunately, destruction of valuable (and irreplaceable) caves and cave resources have made cave conservation a matter of law as well as good intention and stewardship. As of 2003 twenty seven states (including Puerto Rico) have cave protection laws. Missouri is one of those, having passed the Missouri Cave Resources Act in 1980, with the law effective January 1, 1981.

Destruction of caves on Federal lands, and the desire to do something about it, also resulted in the passage of the Federal Cave Resources Protection Act of 1988. This statute protects caves in National Parks, National Forests, BLM land, and other lands administered by the Departments of Agriculture and Interior. Two important aspects of this legislation are the system of "significant caves" which it establishes, and the legal necessity for input from the caving community in regards to these federally owned caves.

Since 80% of Missouri caves are on private land, make sure you have permission of the landowner to be on his or her property. You may be prosecuted for trespass if caught on property whose boundaries are marked with either "No Trespassing" signs or orchid-colored (light purple) paint. Heed signs on public land--some caves are considered open, some are seasonally closed, and some are permanently closed without permission. Not all closed caves are gated, although this is increasingly true. In Missouri, you cannot remove anything from a cave (except the mud on your clothes and the water in your boots) without the written permission of the landowner.

Likewise, defacing a cave, or leaving behind trash is forbidden. Rather than reciting a shopping list of don'ts--consider a cave as a close friend's house. If the activity is something you would feel comfortable doing in or to a person's house, it is likely ok in a cave. If not, it most likely isn't good for the cave either.

Missouri Cave Resources Act

Federal Cave Resources Protection Act

2003 Jo Schaper.

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