Protecting Caves

Missouri is reputed to have more than 5,000 caves. Many of us visit caves as a recreational pastime and as a chance to see one of Missouri's geologic wonders. Some people fail to realize that the cave environment can be delicate. Caves are home to salamanders, bats, and other creatures, some of which are endangered.
They were also used by people as dwelling places, for storage, and as final resting places for the dead.

A cave can be unique because it preserves the evidence of its animal and human inhabitants and can provide a window into pre-history. An increasing problem in caves and rock shelters of Missouri is that some people's curiosity about the past results in destruction. The digging of artifacts destroys the scientific value of archaeological deposits, resulting in a worthless landscape of potholes in order to procure items for display.

You can help stop the destruction of cave sites by acting responsibly; use caution when entering caves and report any cave that contains artifacts in or near its entrance. Please obey all landowner and trespass laws. Digging for artifacts in caves or rockshelters is unethical, and it is illegal on federal and state property. The intentional disturbance of any unmarked grave, whether on public or private property, is a felony, punishable by a prison sentence and/or fine.

Cave Laws

There are federal laws to protect all federally owned land, caves, and many cave-adapted animals. Missouri also has laws designed to protect caves. In caves on state or federal lands, it is illegal to:

  • Write or mark on cave walls
  • Break or remove mineral formations
  • Disturb bats or other living organisms
  • Litter or dump spent carbide
  • Tamper with or damage cave gates
  • Remove or disturb historic or prehistoric artifacts or bones
  • Anyone observing violations should notify the sheriff's department, the appropriate state or federal agency, or the Missouri Speleological Survey.
  • Caves are resources that need to be protected and preserved for future generations to enjoy and study.

To report caves:

Missouri Speleological Survey
Doug Gouzie
Missouri State Dept of Geology
901 S. National Avenue
Springfield, MO 65897
E-mail: douggouzie@missouristate.edu