Caves and Karst Systems—Legal Instruments

The NPS Geologic Resources Division developed this article as part of a series to summarize laws, regulations, and policies that specifically apply to NPS minerals and geologic resources. The table below does not include laws of general application (e.g., Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, Wilderness Act, National Environmental Policy Act, or National Historic Preservation Act). Also, the table does include the NPS Organic Act when it serves as the main authority for protection of a particular resource or when other, more specific laws are not available. Information is current as of December 2023. Contact the NPS Geologic Resources Division for detailed guidance.

Caves and Karst Systems

Resource-specific Laws

Federal Cave Resources Protection Act of 1988, 16 USC §§ 4301 – 4309

requires Interior/Agriculture to identify “significant caves” on Federal lands, regulate/restrict use of those caves as appropriate, and include significant caves in land management planning efforts. Imposes civil and criminal penalties for harming a cave or cave resources. Authorizes Secretaries to withhold information about specific location of a significant cave from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requester.

National Parks Omnibus Management Act of 1998, 54 USC § 100701

protects the confidentiality of the nature and specific location of cave and karst resources.

Lechuguilla Cave Protection Act of 1993, Public Law 103-169 created

a cave protection zone (CPZ) around Lechuguilla Cave in Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Within the CPZ, access and the removal of cave resources may be limited or prohibited; existing leases may be cancelled with appropriate compensation; and lands are withdrawn from mineral entry.

Resource-specific Regulations

36 CFR § 2.1

prohibits possessing/destroying/disturbing… cave resources… in park units.

43 CFR Part 37

states that all NPS caves are “significant” and sets forth procedures for determining/releasing confidential information about specific cave locations to a FOIA requester.

2006 Management Policies


requires NPS to maintain karst integrity, minimize impacts.

Section 4.8.2

requires NPS to protect geologic features from adverse effects of human activity.


requires NPS to protect caves, allow new development in or on caves if it will not impact cave environment, and to remove existing developments if they impair caves.


explains how to manage caves in/adjacent to wilderness.

Related Links

Part of a series of articles titled Geology & Minerals—Resource Laws, Regulations, and Policies.

Last updated: January 2, 2024