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Cave & Karst Program

rappeling into a vertical cave enterance
A caver prepares to rappel into the vertical entrance to Lechuguilla Cave, Carlsbad Caverns National Park. (NPS Photo by Dale Pate)

The National Park Service (NPS) manages over 4,700 caves including 4 out of the longest 6 in the world and karst landscapes that encompass some of the largest freshwater springs in North America. Cave and karst resources are valued for the large amounts of freshwater they contain; for the unique and fragile ecosystems from microbes and invertebrates to cave-adapted fish and other vertebrates that they house and support; for the plethora of materials they contain including fossils, artifacts, minerals, and speleothems; for the opportunities of scientific study and inventory that range from original physical exploration and documentation, to hydrologic system modeling, to the search for life on other planets; for the recreational opportunities provided millions of visitors a year; and for the inspiration that the natural cave and karst world can provide to an ever more present human crowd.

Found within at least 153 parks, knowledge of cave and karst resources within the NPS continues to expand with numerous park units actively exploring, documenting, and studying newly discovered caves and cave areas on a regular basis.

The National Cave and Karst Program advocates for cave and karst resources and seeks to provide consistency in documentation procedures; overarching safety, conservation, and ethics protocols; to provide advice and guidance of laws, regulations, policies, and a review of current best management practices for long-term conservation that includes mitigation, restoration, and monitoring activities; to provide guidance, review and support for planning and compliance issues; to provide education and outreach for staff and visitors; to identify issues and needed projects; to maintain a nation-wide network of NPS and other agency cave and karst managers, organizations, and institutions; to facilitate science and research; to encourage, where appropriate, a wide-range of recreational opportunities; and to conserve and protect the cave and karst resources of the NPS.

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Last Updated: June 24, 2015