Cave Regulations

Although the law protects Missouri's caves and the wildlife that depend on them, it is the careful behavior of cave visitors, landowners and resource managers that counts. Remember the caver's motto, "Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time."

  • Caves have unique scientific, recreational, and scenic values.
  • These values are endangered by carelessness and intentional vandalism.
  • These values, once gone, cannot be recovered.
  • Those who study and enjoy caves are responsible for protecting them.

Missouri Cave Resources Act—§§578.200-578.225. Protects cave owners against trespassers, vandals and water pollution through caves, sinkholes and subsurface waters. Removal of natural objects is unlawful. Locks, gates and doors on caves are protected. Penalty: class A misdemeanor.

Missouri Wildlife Code—CSR10-4.115. The "Special Regulations for Department Areas" prohibit many activities unless they are specifically authorized, such as caving, digging, rock climbing, rappelling, horseback riding, plant collecting, etc. One cannot go caving unless a Department sign or a trail map allows it or one has a written permit.

Missouri Clean Water Law—Chap. 644. Prohibits contamination of surface and subsurface waters. For instance, one may not discharge contaminated water into sinkholes or caves. Penalty: Civil or criminal up to $25,000 per day per violation and up to one year in prison.

Missouri Dead Animal Disposal Law—§269.020. Prohibits dumping dead animals wherever they could contaminate state waters, including sinkholes and caves.

Federal Cave Resources Protection Act—Most caves on federal land are classified as "significant," and are more protected from abuse than under most state laws. Federal land managers may keep confidential the locations and names of caves on lands that they manage. Penalty: Civil penalty up to $10,000.

Federal Endangered Species Act—Protects endangered and threatened species on private, state or federal lands from killing, trapping, taking and habitat degradation. Protects gray bats, Indiana bats and Ozark cavefish in Missouri caves. Penalty: Civil and criminal penalties up to $50,000 and one year in prison.

Other laws may apply, including antiquities laws, common law, felony theft, etc.

Key Messages: 

Missourians care about conserving forests, fish and wildlife.

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