Cave and Karst Management
Policy and Program Objectives
NPS management policies relating to cave and karst management are as follows.
The Service will manage karst terrain to maintain the inherent integrity of its water quality, spring flow, drainage patterns, and caves. Karst processes (the processes by which water dissolves soluble rock such as limestone) create areas typified by sinkholes, underground streams, caves, and springs.
Local and regional hydrological systems resulting from karst processes can be directly influenced by surface land use practices. If existing or proposed developments do or will significantly alter or adversely impact karst processes, these impacts will be mitigated. Where practicable, these developments will be placed where they will not have an effect on the karst system.
As used here, the term "caves" includes karst (such as limestone and gypsum caves) and non-karst caves (such as lava tubes, littoral caves, and talus caves). The Service will manage caves in accordance with approved cave management plans to perpetuate the natural systems associated with the caves, such as karst and other drainage patterns, air flows, mineral deposition, and plant and animal communities. Wilderness, and cultural resources and values will also be protected.
No developments or uses, including those that allow for general public entry, such as pathways, lighting, and elevator shafts, will be allowed in, above, or adjacent to caves until it can be demonstrated that they will not unacceptably impact natural cave conditions, including sub-surface water movements. Developments already in place above caves will be removed if they are impairing or threatening to impair natural conditions or resources.
Parks will strive to close caves or portions of caves to public use, or to control such use, when such actions are required for the protection of cave resources or for human safety. Some caves or portions of caves may be managed exclusively for research, with access limited to permitted research personnel. All recreational use of undeveloped caves will be governed by a permit system. "Significant" caves will be identified using the criteria established in the 43 CFR Part 37 regulations for the Federal Cave Resources Protection Act of 1988 (FCRPA). As further established by the FCRPA, specific locations of significant cave entrances may be kept confidential and exempted from FOIA requests.
18.104.22.168 Caves [in wilderness]
All cave passages located totally within the surface wilderness boundary will be managed as wilderness. Caves that have entrances within wilderness but contain passages that may extend outside the surface wilderness boundary will be managed as wilderness. Caves that may have multiple entrances located both within and exterior to the surface wilderness boundary will be managed consistent with the surface boundary; those portions of the cave within the wilderness boundary will be managed as wilderness.
A park’s cave management program should include:
- protection of natural processes in cave ecosystems and karst landscapes;
- scientific studies and research in or about cave and karst resources and systems, to increase the park’s scientific knowledge and broaden the understanding of its cave resources and karst processes;
- detailed cartographic survey of caves and cave systems and a detailed inventory of resources within cave systems;
- provision for educational and recreational opportunities for a broad spectrum of park visitors to safely visit, study, and enjoy caves at a variety of levels of interest and abilities;
- establishment of regulations, guidelines, and/or permit stipulations that will ensure maximum conservation of cave resources and karst processes;
- direction for cave restoration activities that remove unnatural materials or restore otherwise impacted areas;
- establishment of standard operating procedures in the maintenance and upkeep of developed cave passages;
- monitoring of natural environmental conditions and visitor use and impact;
- protection of related cultural and biological resources; and
- methods for sustainable use of cave resources.