Cave Management Program

Craters of the Moon
National Monument - Idaho

March 1993

United States Department of the Interior
National Park Service

Prepared by:
Scott C. Jax
NSS 13356
Director, Craters of the Moon Project

Recommended by:
Jonathan B. Jarvis
Superintendent, Craters of the Moon
National Monument
Date: 04-30-1993
Prepared under the direction of:
Bruce Edmonston
Chief, Ranger Activities
Craters of the Moon National Monument

Approved by:
Charles H. Odegaard
Regional Director, Pacific Northwest Region
National Park Service
Date: 05-06-1993

1. Introduction


Lava tube caves are a significant component of Craters of the Moon National Monument. The caves are notable for their relatively young geologic age, excellent preservation of volcanic features and mineral deposits; as well as being an important source of water and shelter for area wildlife. The monument was established, in part, to help facilitate visitor use, scientific study, and preservation of these sensitive cave resources. At present, the monument contains more than 70 inventoried lava tube caves.

This program has been developed to meet the requirements of the Federal Cave Resources Protection Act of 1988. The purpose of this Cave Management Program is to set procedures for the inventory of monument caves to include their geologic, biologic, hydrologic, archeologic, historic, and related features; and to establish mapping procedures, monitoring systems, and access controls for the management, use, and protection of the caves. Finally, with this program in place, classification of inventoried caves will proceed to specific action plans, as needed, to guide the use, development, research, restrictions, and/or closure of individual caves.


National Park Service (NPS) authority for the management of natural resources is-established in 16 United States Code:

1. Service created; director, other employees (a.k.a. the "Organic Act")

"There is created in the Department of the Interior a service to be called the National Park Service, which shall be under the charge of a director. The Secretary of the Interior shall appoint the director, and there shall also be in said service such subordinate officers, clerks, and employees as may be appropriated for by Congress. The service thus established shall promote and regulate the use of the Federal areas known as national parks, monuments, and reservations hereinafter specified, except such as are under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of the Army as provided by law, by such means and measures as conform to the fundamental purpose of the said parks, monuments, and reservations, which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."

1a-1. National Park System; administration; declaration of findings and purpose (Amendment, a.k.a. the "Redwoods Act")

"1978 Pub. L. 95-250 provided that the promotion and regulation of the various areas of the National Park System, as defined in section 1c of this title, be consistent with and founded in the purpose established by section 1 of this title, to the common benefit of all the people of the United States, and that the authorization of activities be construed and the protection, management, and administration of these areas be conducted in light of the high public value and integrity of the National Park System and not be exercised in derogation of the values and purposes for which these various areas have been established, except as may have been or shall be directly and specifically provided by Congress."

The Presidential Proclamation (no. 1694, May 2, 1924, 43 Stat. 1947) establishing Craters of the Moon as a National Monument states, in part:

" area which contains a remarkable fissure eruption together with its associated volcanic cones, craters, rifts, lava flows, caves, natural bridges, and other phenomena characteristic of volcanic action which are of unusual scientific value and general interest..."

"... contains many curious and unusual phenomena of great educational value and has a weird and unusual landscape peculiar to itself..."

"...the public interest would be promoted by reserving these volcanic features as a National Monument, together with as much land as may be needed for the protection thereof."

National Park Service Authority for the management of cave resources comes from the general authorities discussed in Chapter 1 of the Natural Resources Management Guidelines (NPS-77), and from the Federal Cave Resources Protection Act of 1988.

The Federal Cave Resources Protection Act states that:

(1) significant caves on Federal lands are an invaluable and irreplaceable part of the Nations natural heritage; and

(2) in some instances, these significant caves are threatened due to improper use, increased recreational demand, urban spread, and a lack of specific statutory protection.

The stated purposes of the Act are:

(1) to secure, protect and preserve significant caves on Federal lands for the perpetual use, enjoyment, and benefit of all people; and

(2) to foster increased cooperation and exchange of information between governmental authorities and those who utilize caves located on Federal lands for scientific, education, or recreational purposes.

The Act establishes that "It is the policy of the U.S. that Federal lands be managed in a manner which protects and maintains, to the extent practical, significant caves. "

The Act specifically addresses the use of "confidentiality of information concerning the nature and location of significant caves" to ensure protection of the resource (16 USC 4304):

"Information concerning the specific location of any significant cave may not be made available to the public...unless the Secretary determines that disclosure of such information...would not create a substantive risk of harm, theft, or destruction of such cave."


The NPS "Management Policies" (1988) states:

Caves will be managed to perpetuate their atmospheric, geologic, biological, ecological, and cultural resources in accordance with approved cave management plans...Natural drainage patterns, air flows, and plant and animal communities will be protected. (4:20)

It further states that:

Caves with all entrances in wilderness will be managed as wilderness. (6:3)

The major objectives of a park's cave management program should include:

  1. protection and perpetuation of natural cave, karst, and hydrological systems;
  2. opportunities for scientific studies and research in or about cave and karst resources and systems;
  3. detailed inventory of resources within cave systems;
  4. provision of educational and recreational opportunities for a broad spectrum of park visitors to discover, explore, study, respect, appreciate, and enjoy caves at their individual levels of interest and abilities; and
  5. establishment of regulations, guidelines, and/or permit stipulations that will ensure maximum safety of the cave visitor and conservation of cave resources.


To comply with the intent of the Federal Cave Resources Protection Act of 1988, cave resources must be inventoried or existing inventories used to determine the significance of individual caves. A special directive is being developed to comply with this mandate. NPS-14, the Cave Radiation Safety and Occupational Health guideline, also directs cave management activities when developed caves or caves into which the public is guided on a regularly scheduled basis are involved.

2. Background


Craters of the Moon National Monument is an 83 square-mile volcanic landscape located on the Snake River Plain of south central Idaho. The monument contains over 70 known lava tube caves and a variety of dormant volcanic features that represent, in total, a volcanic area unique in North America.

The monument was established by proclamation of President Calvin Coolidge in 1924. In 1970 43,243 acres of the monument were designated as the Craters of the Moon Wilderness, to be kept roadless and undeveloped.

The northern portion of the monument, south of the highway, contains a visitor center, public campground, and restrooms. The primary features of the monument can be reached by trails located along a seven-mile loop drive road.


At Craters of the Moon virtually all caves are hollow areas which formed within lava flows, and are considered lava tubes. A lava tube is an underground cavity in which lava once flowed and drained out leaving a hollow tube of hardened lava.

In addition to lava tubes, there are other types of hollow structures which exist in the monument. Natural bridges, spatter cones, hornitos, pressure ridges, lava trees, and hollow mounds may also fall within the broad category of caves.

In the past, caves were managed individually, depending on the condition, access, hazards, or other subjective criteria as determined by management. Some caves were sacrificed for visitor enjoyment, other caves were gated to protect either the cave or the visitor, still others were simply left for the adventurous to find and explore.

Prior to the development of this Cave Management Program, monument caves have been managed using the following criteria:

Caves Open to the General Public

Caves that the general public is encouraged to visit by staff recommendation, monument literature, maps, waysides, etc. These caves are usually located on developed cinder or paved trails. They are considered to be walk-through caves where normal public visitation will not unduly deteriorate cave features and/or present unusual safety hazards. Most caves on the Caves Trail fit this description.

Caves Open to the Adventurous Explorer

Caves that the general public is not encouraged to visit, but do not have restricted or controlled access. These caves are not shown in monument literature, signage, or maps. This passive protection method is used when higher visitation could cause resource damage, staffing limitations prevent patrolling of their location, or exploration requires a higher level of visitor experience or equipment. Visitors may find these caves on old topographic maps, hear of them from previous explorers, or find them in the field by following cairn (rock pile) markers. When asked about the location of other caves, monument staff may disclose the location of these caves with a discussion of applicable hazards, fragile features, access routes, etc.

Newly Discovered Caves

When located, new cave discoveries remain confidential until further management action is taken to change their classification.

Caves with Restricted or Controlled Access

These caves have been structurally restricted by gating. Gating has been used as a last resort to control access to caves at the monument. To date, there are only two gated caves: Arco Tunnel, with a locking gate for public safety that allows access after obtaining a permit; and Crystal Pit, permanently grated to protect fragile mineral deposits, which is presently closed to all access except for approved scientific research.


In 1955, R.C. Zink compiled a short history of Craters of the Moon. This is the first account of cave management activities. This record details early efforts to build trails to the caves, as well as explaining how many of the caves were discovered and named up to that date. Cave management efforts seemed to begin with the discovery of Arco Tunnel in May of 1953, when Zinc stated, "At the present time it [Arco Tunnel] is inaccessible to the average visitor due to its small entrance and the distance from the parking area."

In 1961, monument staff made an effort to limit access to Arco Tunnel by installing a wire gate inside the entrance passage. Entry was permitted to visitors requesting a key.

A loose grating was placed over the entrance of Crystal Pit in 1963 to prevent accidental falls. Later the grating was permanently bolted-down to restrict access without the approval and participation of monument managers.

In 1972, the stairway was removed from Great Owl Cavern. This decision was based on the lack of available staff to adequately patrol the area where the entrance pit is located.

In 1983, after being seriously vandalized, Arco Tunnel was re-gated by the Gem State Grotto of the National Speleological Society. The new gate was placed in a crawlway 150 feet inside the cave. The wire gate inside the entrance pit was removed.

In 1982, seasonal ranger Louise Skonier performed the first comprehensive cave inventory under the direction of chief ranger Neil King. Her report, CRMO Baseline Cave Inventory, identified 45 cave structures, provided descriptions of each cave with hazard and content ratings.

Scott and Donna Jex, using the organizational name "Jexploration," provided additional cave research assistance under the monuments volunteer program (VIP). This work began in 1984 and continues today under the organizational name of "The Craters of the Moon Project." Primary activities included the verification of the Skonier cave inventory, new cave discovery, preparation of a Cave Research Guide, Master Cave Inventory, and other assistance as requested by management.

In 1989, formal efforts began in the creation of a Cave Management Plan. Resource management specialist, Shelley Sparhawk, prepared a draft plan outline and conducted basic research, including the collection of other plans from Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Forest Service units.

In 1992, chief ranger, Bruce Edmonston, initiated the preparation of this "Cave Management Program." The monuments support organization, "Craters of the Moon Natural History Association,'' contracted with The Craters of the Moon Project to prepare the plan. Coordination was also begun with Scott Earl, leader of the "Idaho Cave Survey" (ICS) of the National Speleological Society, to begin mapping selected caves at the monument. ICS team members perform on-site surveys, plot the data on computer, then provide management with computer-generated cave maps. The ICS provides this service to the monument through the VIP program.


Scientific research of monument cave resources include bat studies, Idaho Lava Tube Beetle reports, cave mineralization analysis, and archeological reconnaissance. These research reports are maintained in the monument's library. An overview of these reports can be found in the publication "A Review of Scientific Research at Craters of the Moon National Monument" by Jennifer A. Blakesley and R. Gerald Wright. These reports include:

"Biology of the Idaho lava tube beetle, Glacicavicola" by S.B. Peck, 1974. "Caves of molten stone" by S.B. Peck, 1961.

"Exploration of Arco Tunnel" by P.G. Sanchez, 1959.

"Natural Bridge and Amphitheater Cave: Part of an atlas of lava tubes, Craters of the Moon National Monument" by P.G. Sanchez, 1960.

"A new subfamily of blind beetle from Idaho ice caves with notes on its bionomics and evolution" by R.L. Westcott, 1968.

"1984 cave mapping project" (a.k.a. "Cave Inventory") by S.C. Jex, 1984.

"A review of the invertebrate fauna of volcanic caves in western North America" by S.B. Peck, 1973.

"Unusual mineralogy of the Crystal Pit spatter cone, Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho. by S.B. Peck, 1974.

"Wintering bats of the upper Snake River Plain: Occurrence in lava-tube caves" by D.L. Genter, 1986.


Cave exploration has played a primary role in the development of Craters of the Moon, even before the area gained it's monument designation.

In 1902,1.C. Russell visited the area, then known as "Cinder Buttes," and recounted finding numerous caverns in U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin No. 199.

According to H.T. Stearns, "from about 1910 on, Mr. S.A. Paisley, first custodian of the monument, made numerous trips into the area and located many of the caves and natural bridges. Mr. Era Martin, who has lived within 3 miles of the area for over forty years, discovered and marked with monuments many of the caves and waterholes."

R.W. Limbert also made reference to caves in the area in his National Geographic article published in 1924 which led directly to the establishment of the monument.

After achieving monument status in 1924, monument caves continued to be a topic of interest for both explorers and geologists alike. H.T. Stearns describes in detail the features and history of many of the caves in his unpublished notes on file in the monument's library.

In 1925, a topographic map of the monument was made by M.J. Gleissner, of the U.S. Geological Survey, and during the mapping, "many new and interesting features were discovered."

While H.T. Stearns was conducting a month-long geology mapping visit in 1926, he stated "During this work several new caves, waterholes, and other unique volcanic forms were found. So hidden are the caves and other features that many probably still remain to be discovered. "

In 1955, ranger Robert C. Zink in his report "Short History" of Craters of the Moon, briefly documented many of the monument's caves. In the report he repeatedly refers to other detailed "reports" in the monument's file N-48. A search of file N-48 revealed none of his reports. It is possible that these reports were inadvertently removed during a file consolidation in the early 1980s.

Monument ranger Peter G. Sanchez prepared numerous descriptive cave reports in the 1950s and 1960s. These reports are maintained in the monument's library.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, biologist Stuart B. Peck made numerous visits to the monument to study lava tubes. Several of his reports are on file in the monument's library.

Cave exploration continues today on a variety of levels. Visitors traveling through the monument take self-guided and ranger-guided tours of the "public caves." Hikers visit "wild caves" when trekking in the other areas of the monument. Cavers, researchers, and scientists explore existing caves, and ongoing efforts are made to locate and document unknown caves.


To date, none of the public caves have documented visitation records. A visitor use survey done in 1988 found that 64% of monument visitors stop at the "caves" area.

Total monument visitation figures for the past six years are shown below:


Recent permit records for the gated cave "Arco Tunnel" show that about 100 cavers per year visit the cave. Guided interpretive walks are conducted in the summer to the "Caves Area" and "Buffalo Caves." The number of guided walks offered are based on available interpretive staff from year to year. The number of walks offered and the number of visitors participating in these walks are shown below:

Caves AreaBuffalo Caves


Cave visitors can be informally divided into several groups:


Visitors who have little experience with caves and may be seeing one for the first time or exploring on their own for the first time. They generally visit the caves along the paved trail in the Caves Trail area. Frequently these visitors will limit their exploration to Indian Tunnel, which can be visited without the use of artificial light.


Those who enjoy the caves and routinely return to see them and explore new ones. They may be from nearby towns or outside the area, but frequently go directly to the caves without stopping at the Visitor Center.


Many who are experienced at cave exploration come to the monument for that purpose. Some cavers come from the immediate area, but many visit the monument from around the region. A significant number are members of the National Speleological Society (NSS). Cavers may stop at the visitor center to inquire about caves not listed on monument publications.

School Groups

Educational groups, including local elementary school classes and geology classes from colleges and universities in the region, conduct field trips to the monument. These students usually visit the monument in supervised groups.

3. Management Guidelines



The Federal Cave Resources Protection Act defines a cave as any naturally occurring void, cavity, recess, or system of interconnected passageways beneath the surface of the earth or within a cliff or ledge that is large enough to be traversed by people, whether or not the entrance is naturally formed or manmade. The term includes any natural pit, sinkhole, or feature which is an extension of the entrance. Types of caves include lava tubes, limestone and gypsum caves, tectonic fractures (earth cracks), littoral (sea) caves, ice caves, and talus caves.

Cave Resource

Any material or substance found in caves, such as animal life, plant life, paleontological deposits, sediments, minerals, speleogens, speleothem; including archeological, and historical artifacts.


Relief features on the walls, ceiling, and floor of any cave or lava tube which are part of the surrounding bedrock, including but not limited to anastomoses, scallops, meander niches, petromorphs and rock pendants in solution caves and similar features unique to volcanic caves, such as features formed by the cooling of molten rock.


Any natural mineral formation or deposit occurring in a cave or lava tube, including but not limited to any stalactite, stalagmite, helictite, cave flower, flowstone, concretion, drapery, rimstone, or formation of clay, mud, or ice.


Cave Resource Files

A file will be prepared for each cave located at the monument. This single file will contain all information pertaining to that cave resource. Non-confidential individual studies, photographic materials, maps, or research reports pertaining to. the cave can be stored in the monument's library, but must be referenced in the cave file. Confidential materials must be stored in a Confidential File (see below).

Cave Management Filing System

Cave management files will be created and maintained in the monument Resource Management office. These files will be separated into two groups. The first group, Open Files, are available for public inspection upon request. Open Files will contain all non-confidential cave resource information.

The second group, Confidential Files, will be established to store files pertaining to caves with confidential locations. Secured under lock and key, access to confidential files will be limited to authorized personnel. Individuals requesting access to information stored in these files must obtain approval from the Superintendent. Requests will be made using the Cave Resource Access Request. Under no circumstances will persons other than those authorized be allowed unsupervised access to the contents of the Confidential Files.

Confidential Files are protected by the Cave Resource Protection Act of 1988.

Computer Information Storage

Cave-related information will be placed on computer media as directed by the Chief of Resource Management. Printed output, and storage media such as disks and tapes, will be maintained in the appropriate Open or Confidential storage areas as described above.

Human Resources

A list of persons with cave-related knowledge will be prepared and maintained in the "Open Files" area. This list will include people with monument-specific knowledge, and/or general knowledge relating to cave resources. This list will contain the person's name, address, phone number, and field of interest or specialty. The list should include regular visitors and cavers, people with expertise in cave management, cave surveying, cave interpretation, cave-related natural sciences, and social sciences.

Search and Rescue

A list of persons available to assist managers with cave-related search and rescue operations will be prepared and maintained by the Chief Ranger in the Open Files area. This list will contain the person's name, group affiliation, address, phone number, and field of expertise or specialized skills. The list should include local cavers with applicable rescue training and equipment. Refer to the monument's Emergency Operations Plan for specific search and rescue procedures.

Cave Resources Inventory

A cave inventory program will be implemented that meets the Cave Inventory Procedures (see Chapter 4). At a minimum, each cave will be documented using the National Park Service Classification System. As an interim step, Cave Coding Worksheets which have been previously used to inventory caves, can be maintained until a new Cave Resource Report can be prepared for each cave.

Cave Resource Monitoring

Caves wilt be monitored for signs of physical degradation, safety, and content or habitat deterioration. Managers will implement an appropriate monitoring system, using photographic, videographic, or instrument monitoring methods. Results of this monitoring will determine if management intervention is required. Radon monitoring procedures will be implemented as defined by National Park Service policy.

Visitor Use Surveys

A visitor survey will be developed to identify levels of visitation, types of uses, and visitor expectations. Results of this survey will help determine future monitoring needs, interpretive programs, and management controls.

Cave Research

Managers will cooperate with researchers and scientists in the gathering of cave resource information. Managers may fund or solicit funds and volunteers for studies to aid in the resolution of cave management problems and to expand knowledge of monument cave resources.


Access by the General Public

Visitation by the general public for recreational and educational purposes is a primary goal of this Cave Management Program. However, public information or access to caves will depend on the current classification of the cave. Caves in the Caves Trail area have been developed for use by the general public, are listed on monument publications, and are featured on several ranger-guided walks. Access to developed caves will remain open to unrestricted visitation unless safety hazards or significant resource deterioration develops.

Access by the Off-Trail Explorer

Caves primarily accessed by means other than maintained trails are not patrolled by rangers on a regular schedule, but can offer the visitor a unique opportunity to visit well-preserved caves in relative solitude. New caves are often found by explorers visiting other caves in these areas. Undeveloped caves may, at the option of monument managers, be upgraded to developed cave status, or simply included in guided tours if the resource qualifies. Access to undeveloped caves will remain open to unrestricted visitation as visitors become aware of the caves, but unsolicited information will not be given regarding the location of these caves.

Access to Restricted Caves

Caves with controlled access will be marked with a small sign inside the entrance stating the reasons for closure (safety hazards, sensitive features, nesting animals, etc.) and the method to obtain a permit, if applicable, to enter the cave.

Controlling access to caves with a Cave Visitor Permit allows monument managers to verify visitation numbers, inform the public of hazards or special equipment requirements, and initiate search and rescue procedures if the party does not return by a specified time.

Caves that are closed to all exploration will be marked with a small sign inside the entrance stating the reasons for the closure.

Entering Caves for Research Purposes

Visitation of caves for the purpose of scientific research is welcome, but must be approved by the Superintendent. A written request must be submitted stating the purpose of the project, estimated impacts to the cave resource, duration of the project, the nature of any needed monument participation, and names of the individuals involved. Research requests may be subject to peer and professional review, will be evaluated relative to any other ongoing projects, and be subject to current management purposes and objectives. Research access to restricted caves will be decided on a case-by-case basis.


Preferred Protection Techniques

Preferred means of cave protection are (1) confidentiality of cave locations, (2) use of interpretive media to help people appreciate caves and understand the fragility of cave resources, and (3) patrol by staff. Interpretation is an extremely important management tool since it encourages voluntary compliance and cooperation in protecting essentially nonrenewable resources.

Gating of Cave Entrances

Gates are an obtrusion on the aesthetic integrity of the cave entrance and are often deleterious to the ecology of a natural cave, hindering or entirely impeding airflow and the movement of bats and other organisms into and out of the cave. The use of gates to prohibit unauthorized entry is often unsuccessful against determined vandals. This technique should be used to protect monument caves only where the need is considered essential and a biologically neutral gate can be constructed. The entrance to many caves is so large that gates are not feasible. Interior gates may be used to restrict access to areas of significant hazards, such as Class V hazards, or which merit special resource protection, such as Class 5 or 6 caves. Gates that utilize padlock closure, which allow entry for authorized purposes, are preferred to permanent closures. Cave gates and locks must be regularly inspected and maintained. The monument currently has two caves that are gated; the gates are in fair to good condition but need to be evaluated based on the above criteria for possible remodeling or replacement.

Alteration of Caves

During cave exploration an area may require enlarging to permit entry into virgin passageways or chambers. Permission to enlarge a constriction, or to dig through breakdown or cave fill, must be obtained in writing from the Superintendent. Unless it can be ensured that no significant impacts to the resource will occur, enlarging an opening strictly for exploration purposes will not be permitted. Explosive charges or mechanical devices, such as rock splitters or jackhammers, are not permitted for use in monument caves except for pre-approved construction in non-wilderness developed caves; and only after compliance with National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) requirements.

Cave Maintenance

Maintenance and upkeep of the Caves Trail area will be performed on a regular basis. Priority will be given to public safety with a full inspection of all caves, trails, and stairs/railings to be done as soon as the area is opened and cleared of snow in the spring. Snow/ice may need to be cleared from trails and stairs prior to allowing public access. During peak visitation, weekly safety and litter patrols should be done by the general staff. Entering restricted caves for maintenance will be done in conjunction with entry for other authorized purposes; for example, coordinate maintenance with a research trip. Unauthorized rock cairns or other items placed by visitors should be periodically removed or scattered.


Routine Deterioration and Maintenance

Any visitation of lava tube caves will cause some degradation of the cave resource. Foreign materials resulting from human use can accumulate in the cave. To help maintain a natural cave environment, these materials must be routinely removed. Maintenance personnel must verify that no historical or archeological artifacts are disturbed. Loose rocks that become scattered across paths and stairways should be cleared. Rocks or litter dropped on ice formations can become frozen into the formation if not removed.

Restoration of Vandalism and Breakage

Accidental damage to the cave resource can occur during construction, trail development, or other planned activities. It can also occur deliberately through vandalism. Damage to cave features, such as broken speleothems or speleogens, is considered repairable. An attempt can be made to reattach the feature using state-of-the-art techniques. If the feature cannot be reattached it should be turned in for cataloging, storage, or interpretive display purposes.

Removal of graffiti or other chemical-based vandalism should be undertaken only after extensive study to verify that the removal will not cause additional damage to the resource. This and other significant cave restoration work will be supervised by resource management staff. This type of activity should not be undertaken by untrained persons; knowledge of cave restoration techniques are of the utmost importance. Restoration projects requiring specialized knowledge or skills not available in the monument staff should be referred to experienced persons.

Direct and indirect effects of all restoration techniques should be carefully monitored to help ensure protection of the cave environment. A cave restoration log should be maintained in the individual cave files to document both the details of restoration activities and the results of restoration impact monitoring. Individuals or groups involved in cave restoration work are responsible for the removal of all evidence of their activities from work areas.


Monument caves present a unique opportunity to help visitors understand the volcanic phenomenon. Caves can be interpreted in a number of ways; by making the public aware of a cave location, listing it in monument publications, including the cave on guided interpretive walks, and/or physically altering the cave to accommodate visitors.

It is the intent of this program to restrict future physical development of caves in the Caves Trail area; studies from past and present visitation patterns indicate that the present developed cave area adequately serves the casual cave visitor's needs. All other caves will be left in their wild state, not precluding them from use to the extent of guided interpretive walks.

Interpretive Development Guidelines

The decision to provide the visitor with a cave location, to list the cave in monument publications, or to include the cave on guided interpretive walks will be made by the Superintendent. The following guidelines will be followed:

1. Prior planning must give ample justification for the need to interpret the cave, i.e. a unique example of a volcanic formation not seen elsewhere in the monument. It must be verified that the integrity of the features you wish to interpret will not be damaged by visitor use.

2. Inspect for physical safety hazards, such as potential ceiling collapse, rock movement, and access routes; biological hazards (such as radon, molds, and rabies, etc.), and check the inventory of all plant and animal species to verify possible impacts.

3. Establish baseline data on cave life, such as bat and invertebrate populations; and cave climate, such as water content and air movement patterns. If necessary, have the cave examined by a geologist, archeologist, and professionals from other affected disciplines.

4. Confirm that an adequate, up-to-date cave Inventory, survey, and map have been prepared and are available in monument files. Establish a specific monitoring program appropriate to the resource.

5. Any alteration of the physical cave resource must first meet all environmental compliances, be fully documented, and is to be coordinated by the Resource Management Specialist.


Federal law and state of Idaho laws and regulations regarding caves and related resources will be enforced. The public will be made aware of these laws and of the intention of the monument to enforce them through applicable monument publications and signage.

Federal regulations which can be specifically applied to caves at Craters of the Moon are listed in the "Code of Federal Regulations, Part 36, Parks, Forests, and Public Property".

Applicable regulations in Part 2 "Resource Protection, Public Use and Recreation" include:

Section 2.1 (1) re: preservation of natural, cultural and archeological resources
Section 2.1 (3) re: throwing rocks Inside caves
Section 2.10 (10) re: camping outside designated sites or areas
Section 2.21 (b) re: smoking prohibited in caves

The "Federal Cave Resources Protection Act of 1988" H.R. 1975 protects cave resources on federal lands.

The "Archeological Resources Protection Act of 1979" PL 96-95 protects archeological resources on federal lands.

The "National Historic Preservation Act of 1966" (Public Law 89-665, 80 STAT.915: 16 U.S.C. 470) provides for a National Register of districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects significant in American history, architecture, archeology, and culture.

Idaho Code 18-7035 "Damaging caves or caverns unlawful" was enacted in 1982 to protect cave resources within the State of Idaho.

Regulations authorized by "Compendium of Superintendents Orders" that relate to cave resources also apply.

The management of monument caves within designated wilderness is subject to requirements of the "Wilderness Act of 1964" (PL 88-577). These regulations limit the type of public and management activities that may occur; for example, the minimum tool concept must be applied when developing or maintaining facilities such as trails in wilderness areas. Specific mention of wilderness caves can be found in the "Craters of the Moon Wilderness Management Plan."


At Craters of the Moon National Monument the Superintendent is directly responsible to the Regional Director for cave management activities within the monument.

The Chief Ranger is responsible for the enforcement of cave-related laws and regulations, management of the cave permit system, and search and rescue response.

The Chief of Resource Management is responsible for the inventory and classification of cave resources, observation and monitoring, and the coordination of, or assistance with, specific cave research.

The Chief of Interpretation is responsible for providing appropriate visitor education and interpretive programs including guided walks and talks, interpretive wayside exhibits, and interpretive publications.

The Chief of Maintenance is responsible for the construction, maintenance, and safety of authorized trails, railings, stairways, gates, signs, and related cave facilities; and will maintain sanitary conditions in and around the caves.

4. Program Implementation


Document Collection

All available documentation pertaining to monument cave resources will be collected. These documents will be sorted by cave. Documents not pertaining to any one cave will be grouped separately by subject.

Creation of Files

Open and confidential files will be established as described in Cave Resource Data Collection and Storage. Documentation will be temporarily filed in numerical order according to their assigned number on the Master Cave Inventory. Note: due to the listing of exact cave coordinates on the Master Cave Inventory, it will be treated as a confidential document.

Interim Management Classification

The reason for this interim classification system is to quickly group the caves by the frequency and risk of public exposure. The vast majority of caves are passively protected by their remote location and confidentiality, thereby allowing managers to concentrate their resources on caves requiring immediate attention. The following classes essentially follow the National Park Service Cave Classification System.

Class 1 - Public Caves

This group will include all caves that the general public is actively encouraged to visit by monument staff and current literature. These caves will continue to be maintained for visitor use. Due to high visitation numbers, caves in this group have the highest priority for information gathering.

Class 3 - Caves Accessed by Permit

This group includes all caves whose locations are not readily available to the general public, AND require a permit to enter. Caves in this group have the second highest priority for information gathering. Names and locations of these caves may be provided to the general public as appropriate.

Class 4 - Controlled Caves

This group includes, all newly discovered caves, caves that have yet to be Inventoried or evaluated, and caves that need additional documentation to determine a final classification. Caves in this group have the third highest priority for information gathering. The names and locations of these caves will not be made available to the general public.

Class 5 - Restricted Caves

This group contains caves which have entry restrictions currently in place. Access is restricted to research use only; this does not exclude administrative entry to monitor research activity and/or impacts. Since visitation is low, caves in this group have the lowest priority for information gathering.

Final Cave Classification System

The National Park Service Cave Classification System consists of a three-element code rating made up of:

  • a numeral indicating the type of management needed
  • a letter indicating resources contained in the cave
  • a Roman numeral indicating the cave's hazard rating

As complete information is collected on each cave it will be compared to the criteria shown for Management Class, Resource Class, and Hazard Class, and a final classification will be established for each cave. All caves will be reviewed on an annual basis for possible change to other classifications. This does not exclude the possible need for immediate change based on safety, resource protection, or other factors.


All caves will be subject to an on-site inventory by a monument staff member and/ or authorized contractor or volunteer. For the most consistent results individuals performing the inventory should be experienced in the documentation of cave resources. The information should be gathered using a standardized data collection form.

Cave Number

Each cave will be assigned a consecutive 3-digit number as it is documented.

Cave Name

Names for newly discovered caves may be submitted by the discoverer. Acceptable names relate the cave to its geographic proximity to natural features (i.e. Sheep Trail Butte Cave), to a physical characteristic of the cave (i.e. Dirt Floor Cave), to its proximity to cultural features (i.e. Indian Tunnel), or to an intangible feature of the cave (i.e. Surprise Cave, Last Chance Cave). Personal names or vulgar expressions will not be accepted for monument caves.

Cave Markers

It is recognized that the vast areas of the lava flows make it extremely difficult to locate cave entrances. The majority of inventoried caves have a rock cairn erected near the entrance to aid in location once the explorer is nearby. Some of these cairns have historical significance in that they mark caves or waterholes; it is possible that these cairns were built by Native Americans or other explorers more than 50 years ago. This program establishes the need to have cairns evaluated for their archeological and historical significance before being altered in any way. Following that evaluation, the general policy on the use of calms to mark caves will be reevaluated. Options include:

  • leaving cairns as is to mark caves, including some cairns that have been built six to eight feet high,
  • using cairns to mark caves but breaking them down to a standard size, e.g., three feet,
  • eliminating calms in the wilderness,
  • eliminating all cairns throughout the monument.

Cave Signage

After each cave has been completely inventoried old location signs will be removed from cave located within the wilderness. Signs will be limited to those existing for interpretive purposes on the "Caves Trail" or new signs as approved by the Superintendent.

Cave Identification System

All cave entrances will be photographed with both color slide film and color print film. The color prints will be compiled into a notebook and indexed to appropriate maps or sketches of cave interiors to aid in identification of specific caves. An additional copy of the photograph will be placed in each cave file. Cave name, number and UTM coordinates will be recorded on each entrance photograph. The color slides, identified by cave number only, will be stored for interpretive use.

Cave Location Map

A Global Positioning System (GPS) device will be used to locate each cave as exactly as possible. UTM coordinates will then be recorded on the Master Cave Inventory and in each individual cave file. All cave locations will be plotted on a current Craters of the Moon topographic map. This map will be kept in the confidential file area.

Cave Survey and Map Drafting Procedures

As directed by managers, a cave survey will be performed by a qualified team using standard cave survey techniques. The level of accuracy and the techniques used will be determined by the team leader and managers, based on the requirements of each cave. At minimum, the survey team will employ the standard practices described in the National Speleological Society publication "Cave Surveying" (number SCS 7801 ) or current equivalent. Copies of the survey notes, including the station log, will be provided to managers for inclusion in the cave file.

In some instances, a sketch map may be prepared by an advance exploration team prior to a cave survey. This map, showing important cave features, size, and/or hazards, can help managers determine the scope of the future survey. The map should be marked "SKETCH MAP - NO SURVEY DATA," and include the name of the preparer and the date drawn.

After a formal cave survey, a cave map should be drafted by members of the survey team using the data acquired in the survey. At minimum, the map will be prepared using standard drafting procedures such as those described in the National Speleological Society publication "Drafting of Cave Maps," (number SCS 7601 ) or current equivalent. Computer mapping techniques are encouraged whenever possible. At minimum, the graphic symbols used when preparing the map will follow those shown in the National Speleological Society publication "Standard Map Symbols," (number SCS 6101) or equivalent.

Required Documentation

Each cave file should contain the following when possible:

  1. Discovery date.
  2. Name of discoverer.
  3. Other people present.
  4. How located.
  5. How and why named.
  6. Topographic map of area showing location of cave and route taken to and from the cave, and suggested route, if different.
  7. Detailed descriptions of hazards present within the cave and/or in reaching the cave entrance, including recommended equipment for reaching, entering, and exploring the cave.
  8. Detailed description of major features of the cave, including speleothems, fauna, flora, biological, hydrological, geological, archeological, historical, ethnographic, paleontological, etc.; and their corresponding location on the cave map.
  9. Recommended use restrictions, If any.
  10. Survey map of the cave, including plan view, vertical section, and all survey computation notes.
  11. Photographs showing the cave entrance, cairns, and major features. Notation should include the photographer and date the photographs were taken.
  12. Significant trip reports and completed Cave Visitor Permits, if applicable.

National Park Service Classification

Finally, as caves are inventoried, they will be assigned a classification using the National Park Service Classification System. This classification process will dictate how the cave resource will be managed.



All new cave discoveries must be reported immediately to the Chief of Resource Management.

Management Groups

All newly discovered caves will be classified as "Class 4" (Controlled), if the cave warrants an immediate inventory based on its reported resources or location, one should be conducted. Otherwise, the cave will be scheduled for inventory at the earliest opportunity. After the resource inventory is completed the classification of the cave will be reevaluated and the cave assigned to the most appropriate class.


Caves will be managed in groups based on their management class within the National Park Service Classification System. The following management activities apply to caves with the listed designation:

Management Objectives

Class 1Provide opportunities for the broad spectrum of visitors, but ensure that the resources are preserved and protected to the extent practical.
Class 2Protect and preserve the resources while allowing limited opportunities for visitation.
Class 3Same as above.
Class 4Primary goal of protection and preservation of the resource with limited research access only.
Class 5Maximum protection of the resource with an allowance for research.
Class 6Cave closed to all entry except required administrative work.

Visitor Information

Class 1Cave locations may be shown on monument publications readily available to the public. Interpretive tours are encouraged.
Class 2Cave locations will not be publicized, but will not be withheld upon request. Visitors must be accompanied by monument staff.
Class 3Same as above, except staff accompaniment is optional.
Class 4Cave locations confidential. No interpretive tours are allowed.
Class 5Same as above.
Class 6Same as above.

Development and Maintenance

Class 1Existing developments may be maintained and minor developments permitted.
Class 2Existing developments may remain but not be maintained, no new developments.
Class 3Same as above, except existing developments may be maintained.
Class 4Existing developments must be removed, no new developments allowed.
Class 5Same as above.
Class 6Same as above.


Class 1Impacts will be monitored in selected representative caves.
Class 2Impacts will be monitored in every cave.
Class 3Same as above.
Class 4Same as above.
Class 5Same as above.
Class 6Same as above.


Visitor surveys may be performed to aid in the management of cave resources as necessary. Surveys may be based on research needs, resource impacts, etc. Surveys may also be used to detect trends or types of usage In monument caves.

Outside of the "Caves Trail. area, use of caves is so low that surveys are not necessary. Surveys of visitation in other classes of caves may be compiled from entrance permits issued or interpretive tour records. An annual summary of these visitation numbers will be referenced in updates to this Cave Management Program.


The Cave Management Program will be reviewed on an annual basis and updated as necessary. Major changes in this program will be recommended by the Superintendent and approved by the Regional Director. Minor changes or updates require approval only from the Superintendent.

Last Updated: 27-Sep-1999